Veterinary profession will bounce back stronger than ever after Covid-19

In the face of a pandemic, togetherness is key for the veterinary profession.

Here, VetPartners CEO Jo Malone discusses how our practices drew inspiration and support from each other as Europe went into lockdown during the Covid-19 crisis.

THE spirit of warmth and belonging we’ve created at VetPartners was never more important than when we were in the grip of the global pandemic.

The Covid-19 health crisis created the biggest challenge our family of practices have ever faced.

The whole experience completely changed our way of working and our way of living.

But I believe that the veterinary profession and, in particular, practices that are part of VetPartners, will emerge stronger than ever after showing great adaptability and resilience.

I am so proud of how our practice teams in both the UK and Italy showed great resourcefulness and togetherness to continue providing veterinary care, while protecting colleagues, clients and their wider community during the international effort to fight coronavirus.

Our five veterinary practices in Italy had to adapt even more quickly than their UK counterparts to new social distancing protocols and ways of working after the country became the epicentre of Europe’s coronavirus outbreak.

With no blueprint on how to work under such circumstances, our Italian colleagues faced unprecedented times as most other nations, including the UK, were approximately two weeks behind in the number of Covid-19 deaths.

We learned so much from their experiences and were able to share advice and ideas, which shows the real value of being part of a larger group.

The values were hold so dearly at VetPartners, such as working collaboratively and supporting each other, have never been so important than when you experience an international crisis.

The safety, health and wellbeing of clients, pets and our teams was our key priority.

At VetPartners, we have a shared vision of people-centred practices, where our family values are about looking after each other.

This is perhaps summed by Jo Cobbett, a clinical director at Eastgate Vets in Bury St Edmunds, who made 100 face masks to protect her colleagues.

The pandemic had a drastic economic impact on the veterinary profession, with a survey by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons revealing a reduction in turnover of 51%-75% at the height of the crisis.

Most practices saw a reduced caseload, including routine appointments like vaccinations, with most clinics seeing only emergencies and urgent cases.

In the UK, we closed a quarter of our 500 small animal, equine, farm and mixed sites during March, April and May to consolidate resources to counter reduced staffing levels due to protecting vulnerable employees in self isolation or those forced to stay at home due to childcare challenges.

Vets, nurses and receptionists across Europe have had to adapt to different ways of working and treating animals over the last three months, while new social distancing measures have been implemented to deal with an increase in cases as services start returning to normal.

As a profession, we have shown we are adaptable and able to handle a crisis during unprecedented times for everyone. We had to rise to the challenge and find ways to continue working while keeping team members safe.

I am so proud of our team after coming through a challenging time when we were thrown into something we have never experienced.

I felt a huge responsibility, ensuring employees were safe, creating new policy documents when guidance changed so many times, and issuing advice to practices from our governing body.

We have proved that using other means of communicating with clients, including video and telephone consults, can be effective, and it has been so important to work as part of a team. The pandemic has also accelerated the digital transformation of the industry, which can only have a positive impact on client experience as we start offering more options of how we support them.

While it was only farm vets who were classed as key workers, the profession has played a key role during the pandemic to ensure animals continued to receive emergency or urgent treatment.

Westway Vets vet Mandy Hood even delivered medication to vulnerable and shielding clients on her lunchtime runs, which really sums up the caring and supportive culture we have.

While we cannot underestimate how worrying it has been that the majority of practices saw their revenue half during the crisis, we know the volume of work is there.

Clients are keen to come back to practices and, although it was initially slow, we are seeing revenue increase as routine work increases.

I believe the pandemic will herald further change in the veterinary industry, both in the UK and in Europe, with increased demand to be part of larger groups like VetPartners.

We expanded into Italy in 2019 and there will be further growth in both France and the UK in coming months, but the after-effects of Covid-19 are likely to accelerate further consolidation of the sector.

Being part of a larger group helped us during the pandemic because we have been able to pool knowledge and resources. What has been so great to see is practices pulling together, especially on a local level, where they could support each other.

We are being contacted by more and more practices who, having experienced the Covid-19 crisis, realise the value of support to keep on top of all the latest guidance and having back-up during challenging times.

What really helped us was being able to respond quickly and get organised because our practice teams were already open to change, with shared values of looking after each other, supporting each other and working in a collaborative way.

We care about everyone’s wellbeing and will always act in the best interests of our practices and employees. We are one family and, as we know, family always comes first.

For media enquiries, please contact Amanda Little, VetPartners Senior PR and Communications Manager, on 07970 198 492 or email amanda.little@vetpartners.co.uk

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