With the Covid-19 outbreak seeming to worsen every day, on Monday evening, the UK government took the decision to ban all but the most essential travel outside the home. While vets are still open – they are classified as essential services under the latest guidance – they are only permitted to see emergencies and urgent cases. So, what’s happening about animal treatment? There are lots of rumours going around so in this short blog, we’re hoping to answer those questions! Please note, while this was correct at time of writing, the situation is changing rapidly… So do check for the most up to date news.
What is considered an “emergency or urgent” case?
The RCVS guidance is that an animal should be seen ONLY if treatment is so urgent that, without it, the pet’s life or health is in immediate danger, or is likely to become so before the travel restrictions are lifted. This essentially means that it’s a similar service to “Out of hours” in more normal times – emergencies, and cases where health is in imminent danger.
If your pet becomes seriously ill, your vet will have arranged cover either in their practice, or with other local practices. There will always be someone who can advise you. If your pet needs to be seen, then you should go to the surgery you are directed to, on your own (one person per pet). The vet may not see you – to avoid the risk of infection, they may take your pet into the practice to assess and treat them while you wait.
We all understand that this might be distressing and it isn’t the way we would like to practice – but right now, preventing the spread of Covid-19 is the most important thing we can do.
Should my pet still be getting routine medications such as flea and worm treatments, or vaccinations?
This is difficult, but in general we would say no, not if that requires meeting people face to face. Some veterinary practices are set up to post out medications to animals with a repeat prescription on file, in which case you will still receive them (although you may have to pay for postage, or arrange a non face-to-face collection). However, not every practice is set up to do so.
Remember, this is not expected to be a permanent situation. However, if your vet considers that for your pet as an individual, in your household, these routine treatments are clinically necessary, then there are safe ways that they can be prescribed (see below).
What about ongoing medications that my pet needs to stay well?
These are easier to classify. Most animals on long-term medication need this medication or they will rapidly suffer a decline in health (for example, thyroid medication for a cat with hyperthyroidism, or steroids for a dog with immune anaemia, etc). In these cases, vets will continue to supply you – but once again, the way they do it may change.
Do I need to go to the vet for a repeat prescription check?
If your pet is healthy and well on the medication, in most cases a repeat prescription check face to face would be considered against the government’s guidelines. Your vet may be willing to extend the prescription interval, however, or use alternative approaches (see below).
If something has changed, then your vet will need to assess them. Again, where possible, this should not be done face to face…
What’s this we’re hearing about telemedicine and remote prescribing?
This is the big change we’ve seen in the last 48 hours. In the past, the RCVS has (quite sensibly) been very cautious about remote prescribing (that is, prescribing medication without a physical examination). The reason is that there are many subtle changes that might suggest that a medication might be unsuitable, which most owners would not realise were significant.
However, in light of the current situation, the RCVS has decided that remote prescribing in some limited situations may be appropriate. However, this will only apply if…
- There is no other alternative (e.g. an NFA-VPS flea treatment should be supplied if there is a suitable one, rather than a prescription-only one, if a remote consultation is required).
- The risk to the patient of prescribing error (coming from not physically examining them) is outweighed by the benefits.
- Whether the condition is so urgent that treatment is required now, rather than waiting until physical examination is once again possible.
So don’t expect “routine medicines” to be prescribed after a telephone call in most cases!
Does this mean I can get medicines from any vet or retailer?
No. Except in the direst emergencies, the guidance is clear that the vet should only be offering remote prescriptions (if appropriate) to their own clients.
Where can I learn more?
On the RCVS website.