Strengthening relations with farmers and broadening the skill levels for SQPs has been the catalyst behind a revision to the farm-SQP syllabus and exam, announced by AMTRA earlier this year.
The changes are designed not only to increase significantly the depth of farm SQPs’ knowledge on parasite control, but AMTRA hopes will also contribute to raising the perception amongst the farming community about the skill-set and capabilities of farm-SQPs.
Despite encouraging findings from recent research projects and studies, indicating the level of service, advice and knowledge transfer from SQPs stands up favourably alongside that of vets and vet pharmacists, there remains a reluctance from some farmers to take advice from the SQP, or indeed impart vital information ahead of any course of treatment being agreed or medicine prescribed.
The new syllabus has therefore been designed to ensure SQPs continue to have the knowledge, understanding and thus confidence to be able to deliver best practice and, ultimately, improve animal health and welfare, and farm productivity and profitability. Much of this is based around sound, practical knowledge applied in real-life scenarios.
The new qualification expands on the amount of material on resistance and farm-animal parasite control, among other changes, and increases the size of the farm-animal qualification by a third. The changes draw heavily on the technical manuals from SCOPS and COWS for sheep and cattle, and while there is relatively little new in terms of subject areas, there is more depth in key topics.
Stephen Dawson, AMTRA secretary general explains, “Responsible use of medicines has become key to the farm SQP role, a change which has perhaps been gradual in implementation but one which we all must now embrace emphatically. The change to the SQP Code of Practice in June now makes it clear that every anthelmintic prescription for sheep or cattle must follow SCOPS or COWS recommendations.”
“Best practice advice has both expanded and evolved over the years, and it is essential that new SQPs are fully aware, as well as existing SQPs keeping up to date. That knowledge must also not be theoretical – SQPs must be able to put it into practice in advising a farmer customer.”
Stephen Dawson continues, “We have changed the focus of the examination process to make it even more centred on the SQP role as the animal medicines advisor, with ‘advisor’ being key, across the board but in particular with respect to anti-parasitics. Much of the farm module, because of its increased focus on application of knowledge, rather than just recall, could be argued to be effectively at equivalent to HE level 5.”
Allied to the change in examination process, AMTRA has also removed the previous course-work farm project from the assessment. In its place, candidates now have to answer a number of questions from a case study of one of a number of complex farms with a mixture of livestock and husbandry. The idea is to move closer to a real-world scenario of interaction with the farmer, and developing an understanding of the products and strategies that should be used on that particular farm.
In the exam, a detailed control programme for either endoparasites, ectoparasites or use of vaccines must be produced for a defined farm animal species, and candidates are asked to consider management as well as medicinal products, while not changing the nature of the farm or fundamentals of the business plan. They must also demonstrate an understanding of what the SQP should do in respect of prescription and supply of the medicinal products they have chosen.
Stephen Dawson adds: “As a result of the changes with our new broader and deeper exam, all existing AMTRA farm SQPs are also required to undertake some compulsory farm CPD. This has already produced some very positive feedback from SQPs, with both the content and the questions (SQPs must get 80% right) being pitched just right.”
The online CPD has been developed by independent consultant Lesley Stubbings and hosted for AMTRA by Vetstream. For the minority of SQPs who struggle to access the material online, AHDA and AMTRA will be making some face-to-face alternatives available, details will be available very soon. “But if you can get online, and haven’t already, get started now,” urged Mr Dawson.
“We will continue to work together with industry, animal owners and our SQPs to ensure the prescription and supply of animal medicines is undertaken in a responsible and beneficial manner, with increasing respect for the role of the SQP,” concludes Mr Dawson.
All AMTRA farm SQPs must complete the new CPD by 31 January, or they will immediately lose the farm-animal element of their SQP registration.