There has been an announcement. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has announced that the restrictions on Veterinary Practices in the UK are going to be loosened.
Let us consider what that might look like and what will it mean for us and our pets.
First, let’s recap the current position.
As it stood last week, vets up and down the country were seeing emergencies only. Emergencies are unstable situations that are going to deteriorate rapidly if somebody doesn’t step in. Examples include problems giving birth, blocked bladders, broken limbs, breathlessness and so on. Vets have been consulting from a distance to assess such patients. Those who have needed to put animals to sleep during this time, have done so without the owner being present, or sometimes resorted to placing a drip and administering the lethal drug from a distance, so that the owner could still cuddle and reassure their pet. Routine animal healthcare appointments, such as worming and vaccination, have been on hold. Vets have been dispensing necessary medicines as appropriate.
However, this situation cannot go on forever.
Even on the Vet Help Direct Facebook page, it has been demonstrated that many owners want veterinary advice for illnesses that, while not desperate emergencies, will deteriorate and cause problems if untreated for long. Examples include tooth problems, lumps which are possibly tumours, suspected early liver disease and so on.
As expected, the announcement has now been made that lock-down in the UK is set to continue, so the RCVS has changed its approach to veterinary cases. The idea is that these developing cases can get the help that they need before they turn into emergencies themselves.
Furthermore, vets need to vaccinate animals again.
Increasing numbers of animals’ vaccinations have been going out of date. As we know, a single dog going overdue on its Parvo vaccine (for example) would be unlucky to contract Parvo the very next day. But if every dog in the UK let its Parvo vaccination slip at the same time, then eventually there would be an epidemic.
And hence, ‘they’ (the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons: the organisation that regulates all of us) have issued further Guidance for Veterinary Practices in providing essential veterinary care during the Covid-19 epidemic.
This Guidance comes into play after the 13th of April.
What does it say?
It still says that Veterinary work should be done from a distance if at all possible. After all, social distancing helps to keep people safe. But it also says that where there is a REAL welfare risk within a two-month time-frame, animals can now be seen in person if appropriate. This should be done while practising social distancing, being mindful of the need to use Oxygen sparingly (Hospitals come first, where Oxygen supplies are concerned) and practising good biosecurity.
Please translate! What will look like for me?
From 14th April in the UK, clients who would like their pet to be seen can call the practice, who will review each case using a flow-chart. The flow-chart has been carefully put together by the RCVS experts and sets out what should be done. Vets can examine non-urgent patients if they might deteriorate: however, the owner will not come into the room. Animals will be handed over in the safest way possible; consulting will be done over phone or video link. Protective clothing, such as masks, will always be worn.
Which cases will be seen that were not being seen before?
The RCVS Guidelines clearly state that some vaccinations can take place again (following a risk assessment); that neutering dogs, for instance, is allowed if it is deemed necessary under a 2-month rolling time limit. Equine castrations, vaccinations and routine mare-in-foal checks will be permitted. Flea treatment can be dispensed and so on.
What should I do if I’d like my pet to be seen?
Veterinary surgeries will no doubt hone their procedures, but those wishing to make an appointment should call their vets, who will review each case in order to decide whether it merits an appointment.
What do vets think of this? Will the guidelines work?
Vets have a duty towards public health as well as towards animal welfare. We are obliged to keep the spread of Covid19 to a minimum and to do our best to look after our patients.
Remember when social distancing first started and that weekend, the sun shone and lots of people went out into the countryside to find that it was almost physically impossible to stand two metres apart? I don’t believe that those people were deliberately trying to thwart government plans; they were simply trying to have a nice day out and didn’t expect everyone else to have the same idea. When they got there, they looked around and thought: ‘everyone else is ignoring the guidelines; I will, too.’ A few weeks later, there was a surge in Covid19 cases.
This time, pet owners and vets are the ones being given a mass-responsibility. The danger of mass-responsibility, as we have already seen, is people taking cues from one another’s example, rather than following the rules.
However, if every individual chooses to follow the rules, they will work.
Owners must not stretch the truth about symptoms to get an appointment.
Vets must not place special relationships with favourite clients above the importance of the control of the disease.
Human and animal welfare comes first. Vets are used to this idea already because they have already sworn an oath about this.
Everyone must take social distancing seriously and wash their hands.
The guidelines have robust science behind them, but it is up to us – collectively – to work together, to set and maintain the highest of standards in these strange, unprecedented times. I have faith that the Guidelines can, if used right, help a lot of the animals under our care.