New research demonstrates value of SQP to the farming and equine industry

Face to face contact still viewed as crucial in interaction between animal owner and prescriber

Encouraging findings from a VMD funded research project reveal that along with veterinary surgeons, SQPs are fulfilling a valuable and effective role in both farm and equine helminth control, while highlighting areas for improvement to deliver best practice and improve animal health and welfare, and farm productivity.

Presented at the VMD and VPC Open Meeting at APHA’s Weybridge headquarters on 29 September 2017, the study involved a series of surveys across anthelmintic prescribers, farmers and horse owners, with the aim to examine knowledge levels and practices of the UK prescribing channels (veterinarians, SQPs and vet pharmacists). The study also assessed the uptake of industry recommendations for best practice helminth control on the farm or yard.

Professor Jacqueline Matthews of Moredun Research Institute, who was principal investigator of the study, presented the findings, and she acknowledged her co-investigators Stephanie Easton, Emily Hotchkiss and David Bartley (of Moredun), and Gina Pinchbeck and Jane Hodgkinson (University of Liverpool).

AMTRA has welcomed the report findings, with areas for improvement amongst SQPs identified in the research now being addressed, in part at least, with the introduction of a broader and deeper farm SQP qualification plus some compulsory CPD on farm helminth control strategies for existing SQPs. The new qualification expands on the amount of material taught on dewormer resistance and farm animal parasite control, among other changes, and increases the size of the farm-animal qualification by a third.

Knowledge test

The study started by testing knowledge of worms, best practice and legislation. The initial analysis showed no significant difference in percentage correct between SQPs and vets overall, with vets ahead on worm knowledge, SQPs on legislation, and similar results on questions relating to best practice. Follow-up regression analysis of the test results indicated higher levels of knowledge overall in the veterinary channel and in equine prescribers, regardless of whether they were vet or SQP prescribers.  The uptake of this test was very low in the SQP channel, so the results cannot be easily extrapolated to the SQP prescribing population as a whole.

Prescriber survey on training and client/customer interactions

There was a higher response rate in a subsequent prescriber survey, in which 193 vets and 326 SQPs took part. This survey revealed that SQPs received more parasitology specific training after qualification, with longer periods of training. It also highlighted that SQPs gained access to specific reference materials after training, although a third of the responding SQPs felt that some training materials gave conflicting advice. Both SQPs and vets stated that they would like access to more parasitology CPD.

Interaction

Face-to-face interaction was by far the most frequent form of communication, with 96 per cent of SQPs and 76 per cent of vet respondents citing this as a key form of contact. Vets utilised telephone contact more widely than SQPs (73 per cent and 55 per cent respectively), while online contact remains low.

Testing and resistance

Overall, significantly more vet respondents stated that they recommended faecal worm egg count tests than SQPs, though there was no difference when equine prescribers were examined. In general, vets appear to be carrying out more FEC tests than SQPs, again except for equines.

Both vets and SQPs are discussing anthelmintic resistance, particularly for sheep and horses, but there is less discussion on efficacy testing, particularly so for cattle and pigs.

Stephen Dawson, AMTRA secretary general, commented, “It is good to see awareness of the issue of resistance among prescribers and animal owners, but we need to see more FEC testing: without determining the resistance status of the parasites in question, SQPs can’t help farmers and owners as well as they could.”

Horse owner survey

The survey of nearly 500 horse owners showed a significant number of respondents using online platforms as a route of purchase (226), just behind 234 preferring face-to-face, and only 31 choosing telephone contact as the primary purchase method.

The results of this survey indicated that there should be some concern that owners purchasing online were less likely to consider prescriber advice or knowledge, and the survey also indicated that the seller was less likely to discuss targeting of parasites, a key question that should be asked in the provision of good quality advice at the point of sale. The findings also showed a low uptake of efficacy testing in all groups.

Farmer survey

Some 380 farmers responded to the survey. A large majority preferred face-to-face interaction when purchasing, with much smaller numbers preferring online or via the telephone.

The research did suggest that farmers buying from vets are more likely to view the suppliers’ knowledge of animals, and diagnostics, as important, and those buying from more than one prescriber channel were more influenced by vets. These are problems, but also opportunities, for SQPs to increase the understanding among animal owners of SQPs’ knowledge and the value that can bring, and to use that knowledge in better guiding farmers in product choice and best control strategies.

Despite high levels of concerns for anthelmintic resistance in all groups, with 96 per cent concerned generally and 65 per cent concerned about their own farm, there were worrying gaps in discussion of certain elements of best practice guidelines. Many farmers reported that conversations on weighing animals, calibrating equipment, quarantine and FEC testing were rarely or never held. Stephen Dawson commented, “This needs to improve. Not only are these elements key parts of giving the farmer good service and helping to look after the farmer’s stock well, they are obligations of the SQP Code of Practice with every anthelmintic prescription.”

In agreement with the prescriber survey, here, farmers who purchased from vets were significantly more likely to state their dewormer seller discussed FEC testing and management strategies to reduce reliance on these chemicals at the point of purchase than farmers that purchased from SQPs or those that bought the products from more than one channel. On a specific question on FEC testing recommendations for different livestock, respondents who purchased dewormers from vets were significantly more likely to be recommended testing for beef and sheep than those that bought dewormers from other prescribers. Generally, sheep farmers stated that they did FEC testing more than the other types of farmers.

Similar to the horse owner survey, when farmers were asked whether they ever conducted efficacy testing to check for resistance, they indicated that such testing was relatively uncommon. There was no significant difference in stated levels of efficacy testing when farmers were grouped according to whom they bought dewormers from.

Overall, the data paints a relatively positive picture, albeit with definite room for improvement, but also very much backs the recent work of AMTRA in introducing the new farm-SQP qualification. Stephen Dawson added, “In addition to our new broader and deeper exam, all existing AMTRA farm SQPs are 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 results from this research very much reflects our own findings and 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.”

All AMTRA farm SQPs must complete the new CPD by 31 January 2018, or they will immediately lose the farm-animal element of their SQP registration.