AlphaPet Covid-19 Update - 17th April 2020
So here we are coming towards the end of 4 weeks of enforced lockdown.
The government yesterday made us aware that we are going to be locked down for at least another 3 weeks, possibly more.
This is an update of where we are currently with AlphaPet and dealing with Covid-19
First of all, I’d like to thank you for your cooperation and understanding at this exceptionally difficult time. Especially also for observing the social distancing rules that we’ve had to put in place.
I have to say that the vast majority of our clients have been hugely supportive and appreciative of the extraordinary efforts that the AlphaPet team have gone to to allow us to continue to deliver 24/7 healthcare to your pets. Thankyou. The messages of support and encouragement are very much appreciated.
To the small minority who have made it more difficult for our staff, we understand that it is stressful for you, as it is for us, but if we don’t continue to work the way we are currently, then we risk not being able to continue to deliver any service to you ongoing. Please take a breath before giving our staff a hard time. They are working extremely hard and doing everything they possibly can to help you within the extraordinary limitations of the current crisis. They have feelings too. They are putting themselves at risk to try and help you. Please don’t take your stresses out on them.
For those who have needed to visit us during the last few weeks, you will be aware that we are working very differently. All of our surgeries remain open, but on reduced hours. We are currently not allowing any clients to enter any of our surgeries for everyone’s protection.
We’ve divided our staff into small teams so that we can reduce the risk of contact between them. If staff are unlucky enough to have to self-isolate, then it will be only one team that should need to do so, leaving the other teams able to carry on providing urgent and emergency services to your pets 24/7.
We remain open 24/7 at our Bognor Regis hospital. On Mondays to Saturdays, we are open 9am until 5pm for urgent and emergency cases only. On Sundays, we are open 10am to 1pm for urgent and emergency cases.
Our branch surgeries at Birdham and Chichester are open 9am to 5pm Mondays to Fridays.
Outside of these hours, we are operating an emergencies only basis.
So what is an urgent or an emergency case? An emergency case is something like a broken leg, a road traffic accident, a seizuring animal, a collapsed animal, significant bleeding or severe vomiting. There are many more, but generally, these are things that cannot be left a few hours. They need to be assessed and dealt with immediately. In these sort of cases, you pick up the phone and call us immediately. Speak to one of our vets (either in normal hours or Out of Hours) and they will determine what needs to be done.
Urgent cases are a little less easily defined. So let’s look at the reasons why some things are classed as urgent and other are not.
Human health remains our over-riding priority. As a responsible practice, we have to do all we can to protect our staff, our clients and the wider population. This means we have to reduced face to face contact with clients even with social distancing being observed. We absolutely need to ensure that we reduce the numbers of visits that clients need to make to us during the lockdown period.
In the last few days, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the British Veterinary Association have issued further guidance to help in the decision making process of what we can see and do currently and also what we can’t do currently. We have and will continue to follow those guidelines.
Essentially, outside of genuine emergencies, anything which either currently or is likely have significant welfare implications within the next 2 months falls into the “urgent” category and ought to be triaged by our vets and, if necessary, then physically seen in some cases. This assessment period is a rolling 2 month period. So, for instance, a new lump that you have discovered might not be considered urgent today, but if it grows significantly over the next week, it might be thought likely to become a welfare issue within the next 2 months and therefore then falls into the urgent category.
Currently, we have a triage system in place for all cases. Our trained nurses and receptionists will determine if a problem falls into the emergency or urgent case categories. If they do, then they will offer either a telephone or a video consultation with an AlphaPet vet. Video consults are carried out using WhatsApp, FaceTime or Zoom. If you are not familiar with these, don’t panic! We can also accept photos and videos sent to email@example.com in advance of the vet consultation. If you only have a phone, again, don’t panic, our vets will still be able to make an assessment in most cases. Please note that our usual consultation fees will apply.
We are aware that there are some particular areas of concern for many of our clients relating to parasite control, vaccinations and neuterings.
To deal with parasite control first.
Flea and worm control is very important for the health and welfare of our pets. At the start of lockdown, we weren’t fully prepared for how we could deliver this under the government restrictions. Fleas and worms won’t kill a pet in a few weeks and the emphasis was for all humans to stay at home as far as possible. Therefore we took the decision to stop dispensing flea and worm control products from our surgeries to minimise client journeys to the practice and to better protect our own staff.
Previously, where necessary, we had posted medications at the local Post Office, but under lockdown, this posed significant risks for our staff having to wait in queues etc, especially with the hugely increased volumes. It took us a week or two to sort out a reliable, legal system whereby we could post out flea and worm control treatments to clients using the local post box only.
Generally, over the last couple of weeks, this has worked well, but we are also aware that the Post Office is also struggling with reduced numbers of staff to maintain their delivery times to households, so we know some clients are experiencing delays in receiving their medications.
Vaccinations are an increasing problem for us. As time runs on, many pets will be coming due for their annual vaccinations. For many vaccinations, there is some leeway in the maximum safe time since their last vaccination. Where we can, we will advise that these pets’ vaccinations are delayed, hopefully until we have reduced lockdown restrictions. This will be in line with the rolling 2 month assessment periods as set out by the RCVS and BVA.
Generally, most adult cat vaccinations can be safely delayed unless it is over 15 months since their last vaccine. Primary vaccinations for puppies and kittens, together with first year boosters are a little more critical and, over the next few weeks, we will start to carry these out again of an individual case by case basis involving a formal risk assessment.
As an example, we are aware that we have parvovirus in our area, and the last thing we need is for lapsed or unvaccinated animals to start going down with parvovirus.
Rabbits in our area are at significant risk from myxomatosis and RHD, so we are recommending rabbit vaccination.
To minimise the risks to both staff and clients, we will be using a different procedure for vaccinations. There will be an initial telephone or video consultation with a vet to cover general healthcare advice and to identify any specific health concerns. After this, you will be asked to bring your pet to the surgery at a specific time. Under current restrictions, we cannot allow you into any of our surgeries, so your pet will be taken into the surgery without you being present. Strict social distancing will be observed at all times. A vet will carry out a clinical examination on your pet inside the practice, taking into account anything that was identified during the telephone consultation. Your pet will receive their vaccination injection and then be returned to you outside and the vet will discuss with you any findings or further advice.
With regard to neutering, this is another tricky decision currently. We are under instruction from our governing bodies to minimize the use of oxygen such that it can be prioritized for the NHS. Unnecessary operations also mean extra time when our own staff find it harder to maintain a 2m distance in the workplace thereby increasing risk to them. So currently neuterings will only be carried out where there is a genuine welfare need and where alternatives (such as hormone implants) cannot be used. Such situations will include households where there are entire males and females present and failing to neuter is likely to result in unwanted pregnancies. Our vets will consider each case individually. They will carry out a risk assessment and decide if neutering at this time is necessary or not.
Like many businesses, soon after the lockdown started, we made the very difficult decision to furlough a number of staff. The rules are that we cannot unfurlough them for at least 3 weeks. This means that we are restricted for at least another couple of weeks in how many staff we have available to cope with a gradually increasing workload associated with things like starting to do limited numbers of vaccinations again.
Please bear with us. It will be a long time before we will start getting back to business as usual. This is a very difficult balancing act currently. We can’t promise that we'll make the right decisions every time but we will do our very best to look after you, your pets and our staff to the very best of our abilities.
And finally, a massive thanks to all of the AlphaPet team. Those who are working are going above and beyond in so many ways and I am hugely proud of every one of them. We aren’t the NHS, but they are still on the front line, putting themselves at risk. The sheer numbers of pets we are treating currently with depleted staff numbers is amazing. They absolutely deserve your thanks, so when you have a chance do please let them know (on Facebook, our website etc) how much you appreciate their extraordinary efforts on behalf of you and your pets.
Thankyou forreading this. Stay safe. Stay healthy and please do contact your usual surgery if you have any problems.