Social media is a huge part of everyday life for many people. As a child growing up in the 90’s, I saw it’s early guises like MySpace and MSN Messenger, through to the birth of Facebook and Instagram and more recently, into the realms of TikTok. As with many things internet-related, social media has it’s plus points and it’s downsides. Traditionally, if you didn’t like something or had a complaint about a service, you approached the person involved directly, or just moaned to your friends.
Nowadays, people’s opinions, no matter what they may be, can be published quickly and easily on multiple online platforms for the world to see. Obviously, this isn’t necessarily always a bad thing, but what happens when it goes too far? The veterinary world is not immune and in recent years, the phrase ‘vet bashing’ has been coined. But for those in the profession, what is the impact of this negative attention? What can be done to rectify it?
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The ‘James Herriot’ era of veterinary practice
Myself, like many other vets, were inspired into the profession, at least partly, by the famous James Herriot books. It seemed that in those days, being a veterinary surgeon was a hugely respected career. Mr Herriot and co. were appreciated, very rarely questioned and payment often took the form of cake or even the occasional bottle of whiskey.
However, this is very likely a romanticised view of veterinary life in the 1940s and 50s and fuels the feeling that vets ought to treat animals for the love of doing so, not necessarily for money. A public opinion that is all too often echoed in veterinary practices up and down the country today. And potentially is at the heart of the most common reason for ‘vet bashing’ – veterinary costs.
NHS vs private veterinary practices
Money is never far from people’s minds, especially in the current economic climate, and with the rise in pet ownership during the pandemic. It is no surprise that when a pet gets ill and money is tight, vets get caught in the middle. One aspect of the problem is a lack of understanding about how veterinary businesses work. Firstly, they are just that – a business. They have to pay for heating, lighting, equipment, consumables, drugs, insurance, building rent, and staff salaries before they can even think of turning a profit. And when they do, most of that profit will go straight back into the business; improving facilities and investing in new equipment, all to ensure they can offer the best service to their clients.
The average salary for a full time vet in the UK is currently around £40,000; not bad, but still less than the average salary for a community NHS dentist at £67,000 or a full time GP at nearly £100,000. Nursing staff, animal care assistants and receptionists, despite all their hard work, are paid significantly less.
During the worst of the pandemic, most vets stayed open, still treating pets in need whilst dealing with severe staff shortages and difficult working conditions. However, they were not classed as key workers. It was one of the most difficult times the profession had ever seen. Yet rather than garnering a warm fuzzy feeling of community spirit, many vets reported the opposite.
A surge in client complaints, abusive behaviour and a tirade of ‘vet bashing’
Some instances went viral, such as the personal account from Boris Johnson’s sister about her recent veterinary encounters. There is one brief moment of praise for the vets that saved her puppy’s life (twice) but multiple stabs at the cost of veterinary treatment for her £1250 (uninsured) cockapoo. Phrases such as ‘vets have you over a barrel’ and ‘battle scarred veterans of vets’ fees’ do nothing to raise the spirits of stressed, burned out and utterly exhausted staff. In fact for some, this ‘vet bashing’ can be the final straw. The drop out rate for young vets is growing and shockingly, the suicide rate for vets in the UK is now four times the national average.
Everyone has a right to their own opinion of course. If there is a genuine issue, any practice should do all they can to rectify it. If there are financial concerns or a complaint about the service you or your pet have received, the first thing to do is to speak to a senior member of staff in the practice. Most of the time, the issue can be resolved or managed in this way. Online reviews, both positive and negative, definitely have their place but bear in mind they often only portray one side of the story and the cause of the issue may be something as simple as a matter of miscommunication.
So consider the impact your words can have. And if you think your veterinary staff have done a good job, tell them! Nothing can brighten a vet or nurses day like a simple thank-you card….or cake….