VETERINARY practices have transformed their way of working to ensure poorly pets receive the best possible care during the global health crisis.
Like virtually all VetPartners practices, vets and nurses at Westway Veterinary Group, which has a 24-hour emergency hospital in Newcastle, have kept going during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure the region’s pets receive healthcare and treatment.
Most of the cases seen by vets have been for urgent or emergency treatment, but ground-breaking video consultations that enable clients to receive advice from the safety of their home have been introduced for the first time.
Social distancing has been made possible by clients speaking to vets on the phone from their cars while their pets are seen in consult rooms, while the practice’s ambulance drivers have delivered vital medicine to clients’ homes.
Westway Vets Clinical Director Helen Clark said: “We had to change our ways of working overnight once the UK went into lockdown. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons provided guidance on the sort of cases we should and shouldn’t see, so we have largely been treating urgent and emergency cases in person, but have been able to offer telephone and video consultations for other cases.
“The use of video consultations is a big change for the veterinary profession as this has not been previously allowed, but has worked very well by allowing clients to stay at home and we can prescribe remotely. We set up a delivery service with our ambulance drivers to ensure medication was taken out to people’s homes where possible.
“The logistics of maintaining social distancing at the practice have meant that currently clients wait in their cars and discuss the patient over the phone with the vet, before the animal is taken into the clinic without the owner present to be examined.
“We try and take payments over the phone so we hope there should be very little interaction between practice staff and clients or clients and other clients. This is a very strange way of working and we understand it can be stressful, but we have been overwhelmed by the support of clients.”
Westway Vets, which has 18 branches across the North East, from Wideopen down to Darlington, donated vital PPE, including masks, gloves and aprons, to human healthcare teams working on the frontline of the global pandemic in local hospitals and hospices.
Vets and veterinary nurses are now making their own masks, or recruiting family and friends to make PPE for the team.
However, the practice has ensured the safety of vets and veterinary nurses by changing work patterns to allow social distancing through fewer people in surgeries.
Dr Clark added: “Our vets and nurses are working in smaller teams and have changed working patterns, often doing longer days and with some staff specifically dealing with telephone medicine and triage. This way of working is slower and we need time to ensure everyone is safe so we have opened our larger sites on Sundays and Bank Holidays so we can spread the work throughout the week. Our hospital remains open 24/7 for emergencies as always.”
With the population on lockdown, it has resulted in a change in the kind of cases coming into practices.
“We have seen less infectious diseases of dogs in particular, with far less cases of vomiting and diarrhoea, possibly because they aren’t coming into contact with other dogs as regularly,” said Dr Clark.
“In cats, we have seen more stress-related problems such as urinary tract disease, which may be a reflection of their change in routine with their humans being present more.
“We have found we have a huge volume of telephone calls and have set up an online repeat prescription service to try and help with that. It may be that as some people are at home with their animals more they are noticing problems quicker and are more on top of their routine needs such as flea and worm products and repeat prescriptions.”
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