New veterinary surveillance model

Improved approach to surveillance for animal disease threats

AHVLA has announced an improved approach to surveillance for new and re-emerging animal diseases and other animal related threats in England and Wales. The new model will improve the effectiveness of surveillance by making better use of the expertise of private vets, universities and the livestock industry as well as retaining the existing AHVLA veterinary network.

This partnership approach will improve access to post-mortem services and will create a more comprehensive system for gathering intelligence on emerging disease threats. The new approach is based on the recommendations of the independent Surveillance Advisory Group, and takes into account views and suggestions expressed in the nearly 400 responses received to a recent public consultation.

Project updates

Published June 2014 – Invitation-to-tender issued for carcase collection and transport service

Published May 2014 – Update to new approach to veterinary scanning surveillance: ‘Surveillance 2014′ – May 2014

Published March 2014 – Update to new approach to veterinary scanning surveillance: ‘Surveillance 2014′ – March 2014

New model

The new model broadens the approach to scanning surveillance; moving away from relying so heavily on post-mortem examinations undertaken in government run facilities to detect threats. Instead greater emphasis is placed on a more systematic engagement with other sources of intelligence, enabling a more comprehensive threat picture to be drawn than is presently the case.

 This intelligence network will be underpinned by a quality assured diagnostic capability, including post-mortem examinations, which remains fundamental to identifying new threats within an environment of varied endemic diseases. Whilst AHVLA will in future operate from fewer locations, access to effective diagnostic services will be improved by adding, or enhancing, the role played by other providers, and by developing a higher level of expertise within AHVLA. A carcase transport service will be introduced in some regions until such time as non-AHVLA diagnostic capability and capacity is built-up locally.

Overall the new approach:

  • Improves coverage and representativeness of the surveillance system to enable early detection of new and re-emerging threats.
  • Widens the surveillance network, to include private practitioners, other providers such as universities and AHVLA facilities.
  • Increases joint working with vets, farmers and other animal keepers and intelligence exchange with surveillance being a shared responsibility.
  • Enables the development and maintenance of expertise of all those working within the surveillance system.
  • Reduces the burden on the taxpayer and improves the future sustainability of the system.

Key elements of the new model are:

  1. A geographically distributed network of AHVLA vets to conduct on-farm investigations, and engage with the range of potential intelligence providers.
  2. Development of the AHVLA Species Expert Groups to act as species-based virtual centres of expertise and a focus for surveillance intelligence gathering and analysis in their species and dissemination of findings.
  3. Improving access to diagnostic post-mortem examinations by:
    • Retaining a smaller, but still geographically well distributed, network of AHVLA post-mortem facilities and expert pathologists.  The location of these facilities have been chosen due to their proximity to the main centres of populations of farmed animal species and these locations will, along with the species expert groups, act as centres of expertise for these species. The future AHVLA post mortem centres will be:
      - Bury St Edmunds
      - Carmarthen*
      - Penrith
      - Shrewsbury  
      - Starcross
      - Thirsk
      - And supported by skills and facilities at AHVLA Lasswade for poultry surveillance
    • Including other providers of high quality post-mortem facilities and expert pathologists within the surveillance system, including contracting for the provision of a subsidised second opinion (expert) pathology from other providers
    • Training and supporting private veterinary practitioners and the fallen stock industry to jointly provide expertise and facilities to enable a large increase in the number of diagnostic post-mortems carried out to investigate disease incidents.
    • Providing a carcase transport service to ensure that while the private provision of a gross pathology service develops AHVLA is able to maintain surveillance coverage.(* The Aberystwyth surveillance centre will also remain open until mid-2014, whilst the Welsh Government explores options to provide a diagnostic post-mortem examination service in the Aberystwyth area. AHVLA will provide the Welsh Government with a carcase transport service for a period of 3 years, which will serve an area that the Welsh Government considers meets the needs of Wales.
  4. A new dedicated surveillance intelligence unit to:
    • Engage with alternative sources of information on animal disease to improve coverage
    • Support data capture, exploration, collation, analysis, reporting and use of surveillance findings, to trigger risk mitigation measures or further research.
  5. Maintaining and improving expertise within AHVLA in pathology, disease investigation, species, systems, and epidemiology.  Also greater working with others in industry and academia to ensure the best expertise is used in gathering and analysing intelligence.
  6. Development of a purposeful partnership with non-government organisations, such as wildlife organisations, universities and private veterinary practices.
  7. The continued provision of an efficient diagnostic testing service. This will remain the major component of maintaining the mutually beneficial relationship between private vets and the surveillance system.
  8. A new governance system that includes Defra and the Welsh Government, private veterinary practitioners and representatives from the farmed livestock industry and other stakeholders. This will help ensure that scanning surveillance is fit-for-purpose, cost-effective, and informs risk management in the future.
  9. Importantly the new model means that cost savings can be made in the delivery of scanning surveillance by:
    • Making more use of data and intelligence already captured by non-governmental sources (e.g. private vets, universities and the livestock industry)
    • Modernising back office processes and data/information management
    • Reducing the number of AHVLA post-mortem sites in England and Wales from 14 to 6 (plus the specialist poultry facility at Lasswade in Scotland).
    • Reducing the number of post-mortem examinations done by AHVLA. 
    • Reducing AHVLA veterinary staff time spent on those diagnostic submissions where little value can be added.
  10. Work to implement this new model will begin immediately, although no existing surveillance centres are expected to close before April 2014.

AHVLA news release

Q & A


Scanning surveillance enables early detection of new and re-emerging threats in animals so that prompt action can be taken to reduce their impact.  In recent years the programme has been responsible for the early detection of pandemic (H1N1) influenza virus in pigs, four of the seven avian notifiable disease outbreaks in poultry, bovine tuberculosis in non-bovine species, antimicrobial resistance in Salmonella, and virulent psoroptic mange in cattle, feed related vitamin A toxicity in lambs and the introduction of Schmallenberg virus. 

In addition, the programme has provided assurance of the national animal health status which has supported international trade and has allowed substantial savings in Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy surveillance.  Scanning surveillance also detects food safety threats, helps to fulfil statutory national and international disease reporting requirements, identifies welfare problems and suspect adverse medicines reactions.

Private veterinary practitioners are pivotal in gathering intelligence on new and re-emerging diseases in farmed animals under their care.  Their relationships with their farmer clients and with the surveillance system are of paramount importance in ensuring the relevant intelligence is relayed from the farm to the surveillance system for integration and analysis.  Farming, veterinary and non-governmental organisations are also significant sources of intelligence for scanning surveillance in farmed animals and wildlife. 

At present scanning surveillance in England and Wales is carried out mostly through a post-mortem examination and diagnostic service provided by AHVLA working in partnership with private veterinary practitioners and universities.  This enables detection of new and re-emerging threats.  Findings are evaluated and raised to the Chief Veterinary Officers, public health officials, relevant policy teams, private veterinary surgeons and industry. The value of experts in this process of evaluation and risk assessment is fundamental to its success.

Several recent studies (the 2010 UK Veterinary Surveillance Strategy Review and subsequent 2011 AHVLA Sustainable Surveillance Project (ASSP) report) have highlighted that the current system under-represents some geographical areas and species, does not make best use of resources and other sources of surveillance information and is becoming unaffordable.  A change in emphasis was suggested, away from relying so heavily on opportunistic laboratory submissions and necropsy to a more systematic engagement with stakeholders. These suggested that scanning surveillance could be underpinned by an intelligence network and supported by a quality assured diagnostic capability, including quality assured post-mortem examination.

The AHVLA scanning surveillance programme costs approximately £10 million in 2010/11 but, in line with wider reduction in public sector funding, this is likely to reduce to £7 million by 2014/15 with £2 million of this being provided by charges to the farming industry.

Against the background of these past reviews, changing financial pressures on government and industry and a changing national and global picture of threats, an independent advisory group was established in 2011 to recommend a future delivery model for veterinary surveillance in England and Wales. Chaired by Dirk Pfeiffer, Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology at the Royal Veterinary College, the Surveillance Advisory Group (SAG) included representatives from government, the veterinary profession and the livestock farming and private laboratory industries. The Group’s final report defined future requirements of a new surveillance model and provided a set of recommendations for a more efficient and effective surveillance based on a shared ownership between industry and government.

Surveillance 2014: Changes to the delivery of Veterinary Scanning Surveillance in England and Wales (December 2013)

Page last modified: 18 June 2014