It’s the middle of the night, you need to get hold of a vet in an emergency. It then dawns on you that your practice uses an out of hours service provider and you will need to travel somewhere else for medical help. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? 

The veterinary profession has changed significantly in the past few decades. Whereas once you would have expected to see the same vets at night as you would have done during the day, this is now often not the case. The profession has changed drastically. The days of bumbling James Herriot receiving a slice of cake for a job well done are long gone. Medicine has improved, business is much faster-paced and owner expectations for their pet’s care are far higher.

Smaller teams

In the past, there may have been one or two vet practices in a town. But now there are several different smaller ones instead. This also means small individual teams who would be put under pressure to provide around the clock care. Instead, many of these practices have pooled together to share an external out of hours service provider. This provides care to clients outside of their opening hours.

Workers’ rights!

Vets are also looking for better working conditions from their career. Especially as this female-dominated profession is often juggling family and childcare needs on top of their day job. Many vets also work long and busy days. Seeing appointment after appointment, and would struggle to work through the night too.

Previously, assistant vets would have been given accommodation (usually above the practice or nearby) alongside a car, as part of a job package. This is still the case with some practices. Although, mainly mixed animal vets that cover farm or horse work as well as pets. But with the rise of smaller, animal-only surgeries, this is no longer the norm. 

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The key issue…

Having been part of an out of hours rota in a couple of small practices myself, most owners did not realise that the vet they were calling out overnight is the same one that may have been out twice that night already. Or that they still have to get up for work the next morning too.

Clients were also surprised to find they had woken someone up in their bed in the middle of the night. Many had expected someone to just be sitting in the practice taking calls! I have had days where it was a struggle to get through routine appointments and operations after a sleepless night on duty. But that is the reality of a small practice that does its own out of hours care. The practices that I worked for previously now all use an out of hours provider.

Overnight care

The other thing to be aware of is that some of the hospitalised pets could be left unattended for periods in the night at small practices. The on-call vet will usually sleep in between checks and emergencies. This is fine for stable pets, but obviously means your animal is not being monitored the whole time. 

The solution – a dedicated provider?

This should all give you an indication as to why a dedicated out of hours provider might actually be a good idea and should therefore be viewed in a positive light. Less tired vets mean a higher quality of care for your pet. You won’t ring the vet in bed at 2 am who is trying to make rational decisions whilst half-asleep. Instead, you will get a vet who is on standby and ready to go. Plus, your pet will be monitored through the night by a dedicated team, who are on standby should something go wrong. 

Larger practices or hospitals may be fortunate enough to employ separate night vets or run shift work. This means that they can give vets time off in the day following an on-call shift. These hospitals can then provide their own 24/7 care and may even act as an out of hours provider for other local practices too.

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Do your research

Whenever you register with a new vet practice you should find out where their out of hours service is before you need to use it in an emergency. It can be a little daunting to travel to a strange place in the middle of the night, so plan for this in advance. Know that when you arrive you will be in safe hands, with a dedicated team who are fully equipped for emergency care.

Hopefully, this has given you an insight into why many vets choose not to do their own out of hours anymore. If you have any questions about the emergency provisions at your own veterinary practice, make sure you speak to them to find out more just in case your pet ever does need care after closing time.

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