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The coronavirus situation is changing rapidly.  This page was last updated at 11am on Wednesday 1st April and will continue to be amended as advice develops.

The BVA and RCVS are now co-ordinating the profession’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak and we are working closely with them and our association colleagues.  RCVS have a time-stamped Q&A list on their website answering the most common questions we are receiving from members, so please check if your question has been covered there.  BVA are running update webinars every Sunday – keep an eye on their social media for registration details for each one.

Following lobbying from BVA and VMG, government has now confirmed that veterinary practices are classed as an essential service and will not be forced to close completely.  However, all small animal and equine veterinary practices should now be only providing urgent and emergency care, with mixed/large animal work maintaining the food supply chain also permitted to continue.  Services must be provided in a manner that reduces face-to-face contact to an absolute minimum.  All staff possible should work from home, and practices should consider whether they can split on-site teams (for example, into Mon-Wed and Thu-Sat crews), or furlough staff in order to safeguard a continued service wherever possible.  Where practice attendance is unavoidable, strict protocols must be followed in terms of biosecurity, maintaining distance apart, wearing PPE and hand hygiene.  RCVS have temporarily relaxed prescribing rules, and advice is available here on supplying prescription-only medications remotely (scroll down to question 4).  BVA have published guidance for veterinary practices in assessing emergency and urgent care during the pandemic, available here; and BSAVA  have created a Triage Tool for practices to use in advising clients.

Suggestions for additions to the collated resources below are welcome – just drop an email to office@vetmg.com.

Thinking points:

  • We have an important role.  We owe it to our clients, our patients, and our working culture.  It can be difficult for leaders and managers to focus their teams and colleagues in challenging circumstances; and people generally work best in an environment of certainty and knowing.  Doing our jobs, safely and reliably, is a big contributor to that sense of familiarity and continuity.  Remember that difficult circumstances pass, and that our fundamental role as safeguarders of animal health and welfare remains the foundation of our working purpose.
  • We are a team.  Veterinary staff are used to being together and working together.  For many people, their workplace is, in part or entirely, their ‘family’.  So, as you consider how to continue your services with remote workers and reduced gatherings, think carefully and creatively about how you can keep your staff connected.  How easily can people check in with each other, see how their colleagues are doing, share ideas, etc?  Consider creating a virtual ‘drop in’ each day when people can click in (whether in the building or not) and feel connected.  Isolation, whether voluntary or enforced, creates loneliness; and you can help create ways for your team to stay connected.  It’s important now, and acting now will matter to your employees both now and in the future.
  • We are listening.  Ensure that agendas for group calls and meetings include time for open discussion and comment on activities, protective measures and recommendations for action; plus any other general topics staff feel are important.  The goal should be for everyone to finish each meeting – whether online or in person, to 50 people or one-to-one, feeling more settled and confident in what they are doing.  That’s what we do as practice leaders, and it matters now more than ever.  Let us know if we can help.

Resources available:

Human health advice and resources

NHS Advice

World Health Organization Advice

Printable “catch it, bin it, kill it” poster from NHS England

Printable handwashing and handrub technique poster

111 Self-Assessment Tool

New Social Distancing Guidelines

Imperial College’s original research on COVID-19 informing government policy

Mental health and wellbeing support

BBC article on coronavirus and looking after your mental health

Video from Vetlife with guidance on looking after yourself and others

Action for Happiness: How to respond constructively to COVID-19

Mind: Coronavirus and your wellbeing

Mental Health Foundation: Looking after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak

WHO: Helping children cope with stress

Action for Happiness printable “Coping Calendar”

Headspace for work: Best practice, free meditations and exercises

Animal health advice and resources

WSAVA Advice

BVA Advice

Employment and business advice and resources

RCVS Q&A on service continuity

ACAS advice for employers and employees

Revised rules for EMS students

Financial support for affected businesses

UK Government advice for employers

Federation of Small Businesses advice

Coronavirus, new sick pay arrangements, and claiming benefits

A summary of your rights and financial help available from Martin Lewis.

BVA’s “COVID-19 and the veterinary profession” webinar

Business scenario planning tool/checklist from KPMG

A guide for business leaders on responding to Covid-19

Actions to consider:

Staff

  • Above all, communicate!  Keep staff informed of measures the practice is taking and ensure they are able to have questions answered.  Ensure everyone knows which communication channels should be used for what.
  • Review and update your service continuity plans; particularly in the event that staff are unable to attend work.  Discuss with your staff which services can and should continue with fewer people in the practice – can you suspend routine operations, reduce non-urgent appointments, make better use of your RVNs’ expertise?
  • Review and update your absence, sick leave and sick pay policies if necessary, and ensure that staff are aware of what they can expect should they have to self-isolate, care for a family member, or similar.  ACAS has comprehensive advice about sickness and absence related to Covid-19.
  • If staff do have to self-isolate, keep in touch with them!  Some people may be able to work from home – consider whether your practice IT is accessible remotely and ensure that those who need it are able to access it.  Ensure robust data security if, for example, you are sending insurance claim forms to be completed by someone off-site.  Maintain communication to ensure these staff remain connected and still feel part of the team; especially if those who remain in the practice are characterised as “keeping the place going”, etc.
  • Remember that some staff, although not physically unwell, will be anxious about their own health and that of vulnerable members of their families and communities.  Share the BBC article on protecting mental health with colleagues and again, keep communicating.
  • Explore options for online learning and CPD if staff have to self-isolate or clinical work is less busy.  Everyone can update their CPD, research cases, design promotional campaigns for the future, or plan events.  VMG members can access our archive of webinars via the Resource Hub.

Clients

  • Again, communicate!  Keep your website and social media updated with the measures you are taking and reliable, robust advice.  Clients will be looking to you for information on their pets’ health – make sure it is available.
  • Consider arrangements for clients whose pets need care.  This may differ for different types of case and will rely on a robust triage system – ensure that all staff, particularly receptionists who will be the first point of contact, understand how this works and how to escalate and prioritise appropriately.
  • Advise clients who are unwell (or who are at high risk) to avoid travelling to the practice and to contact you for advice.  Suggest that someone else bring their pet in in their place if necessary, and consider relaxing your payment-on-treatment requirements to allow for this for established clients.  Ensure your reception staff are aware of how to take payments over the phone, and can advise on online payment options.
  • Consider making alternative arrangements for clients who are unable to travel – be clear what you can offer in terms of phone/video/online advice, delivering or posting medication, prescription diets, etc.  Provide very clear guidance for those missing post-op checks – pictures and video are very helpful in saying “if it looks like this, contact us” etc!
  • Provide and advise on appropriate PPE for staff making home visits, particularly to vulnerable clients.  Ensure the person making the visit speaks to the client requesting a visit beforehand to establish potential risks and plan accordingly.
  • Advise clients not to be offended if staff do not shake their hands and follow the three-paces-away advice!
  • Remember that your most vulnerable clients may not be as tech-savvy as some.  This is where vet-client-patient relationships are so beneficial – if you are aware of someone who may be isolated and concerned, check in with them.

Biosecurity

  • Risk assess your high-traffic/high-contact areas: increase disinfection of surfaces such as door handles/push panels and reception desks which receive a lot of contact.
  • Review cleaning and disinfection protocols with cleaning staff to ensure all are aware of the measures required.  Take the opportunity to review dilution rates, contact times, etc with colleagues to ensure efficacy.
  • Ensure handwashing facilities are freely available to all visitors to your premises; clearly signposted and their use encouraged.
  • Consider ‘public flow’ through your building(s) – could you reduce non-vital access to some public areas?
  • Review your biosecurity policy and update as necessary.

Logistics & Finance

  • Speak to your neighbouring practices – if need be could you combine forces, share resources?  This applies particularly to out-of-hours work – if you outsource yours, maintain close contact with your provider and ensure that plans are in place in the event of, for example, staff being unable to travel.
  • Keep an eye on your stock control.  Avoid wasteage wherever possible and ensure you’re following updates from your suppliers regarding availability, delivery, etc; and that this information is disseminated efficiently.
  • Review your practice’s reserves – how long could you run on a reduced service with associated reduced income?  Take a look at the measures from the most recent budget and see if your practice is eligible for financial support.
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