28 Apr 2021
Vets working together in the Covid-19 crisis
11 May 2020 | Daniella Dos Santos
As we look towards the "new normal" for the veterinary profession, Daniella Dos Santos reflects on the many ways in which vets have put aside commercial interests to come together across the UK to support one another during lockdown.
The world has turned upside down in the past couple of months and not a single element of “normal” life has been untouched by coronavirus. There are no superlatives left to describe the scale of change we are experiencing.
As President of the British Veterinary Association, I have a bird’s eye view of how the veterinary profession has been adjusting to these dramatic shifts. And I’m so proud of what I see.
In the first few weeks of lockdown vets in large animal practice were tasked with keeping the food supply chain going in incredibly difficult circumstances and vets in small animal and equine practices were asked to switch to emergency and urgent work only, overnight. Even as that shifted into essential work, all veterinary teams faced staff shortages as colleagues were self-isolating or unwell, practices had to make difficult choices about furloughing some staff to try to secure practice finances, and daily difficult conversations took place with clients who were adjusting to all the changes.
Putting aside commercial interests
Throughout these difficult times I called on the profession to come together, to support one another and put aside local commercial competition for the good of our colleagues and clients. When we issued our guidance on how to assess emergency and urgent veterinary work we said “We urge neighbouring practices to work together to ensure full geographical cover for emergency veterinary services. We are asking practices, at these difficult times, to put aside commercial interests to support one another, and ensure that on returning to normal provision clients are retained by their original practices.”
Vet practices who had previously been mindful of not flouting competition rules were guided by the government’s lead in handling supermarket cooperation. The Competition and Markets Authority announced in March that it “has no intention of taking competition law enforcement action against cooperation between businesses or rationing of products to the extent that this is necessary to protect consumers – for example, by ensuring security of supplies.”
And I’m delighted that so many veterinary teams have responded to that call. From every corner of the UK vets have been updating me on how they have fostered new relationships and dusted off old connections to find a way through the crisis together.
Examples across the UK
In Scotland, thirteen equine practices came together to issue a joint statement to their clients that they wouldn’t be easing the restrictions on equine vaccinations. In discussions they felt that it was important that all of their clients received the same advice in order to reduce any confusion and upset that could be caused by practices taking different approaches and making different interpretations of the RCVS and BVA guidance.
In Cornwall, one practice took the brave first step of sharing their own practice guidelines with other local vets and inviting comments via a WhatsApp group. People flooded to join and give their views and the result was a consensus agreement that many signed up to – it came to some broad agreements on services but provided for clinical freedom to be exercised.
Lizzy Whiting of City Road Veterinary Centre, who coordinated the consensus work, said: “The community spirit of the vets in Cornwall is something to be immensely proud of, in both corporate and independent practices just alike. We have communicated and worked together to find agreement. Concerns about losing clients to practices offering blanket vaccination and neutering policies have largely been allayed.”
In south Wales, vet practices already engaged in the Iechyd Da consortium that delivers TB testing, came together to provide mutual support to neighbouring practices. The aim was to provide support in whatever form was needed, from the supply of out of stock drugs to pooling staff and other resources if a practice had vets self-isolating. Again, they made great use of WhatsApp to communicate quickly with one another and cascade information.
Ifan Lloyd, BVA Welsh Branch President and director of Iechyd Da, said very simply: “The basic message should be that we are here to support one another.” I couldn’t agree more.
Just this week, vet practices on the Isle of Wight gained some local media coverage of their joint statement reassuring animal owners. It said: “In these difficult times all the island veterinary clinics have been talking to one another to ensure that the health of the island animals is maintained. We also all have a responsibility to preserve human life and so we seek to protect our clients and our own families from Covid-19.”
These simple, clear, joined-up messages can go a long way to remind our clients and local communities that we’re all providing a vital service that is there for them no matter what.
These are just a few examples of vets working together and there will be countless similar stories from communities up and down the country. Thank you to all the vets, vet nurses, and veterinary teams who have turned their working practices upside down to keep our animals and humans safe.
And as we look towards creating a “new normal” for our profession I hope the spirit of collective support will continue.
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