COVID-19 Update 1st June 2020
Here we are, almost 10 weeks into Covid-19 Lockdown. So much has happened and so much has changed in the last 10 weeks that it is hard to keep up and even harder to keep focus on what we are doing and why we are doing it.
At the start of Lockdown, AlphaPet, in common with all other practices, shut its doors to all but emergency cases. We divided our staff into teams which enabled us to continue to stay open at each of our surgeries and, most importantly, we were able to maintain our 24/7 emergency service, so we could still be here if you really needed us.
Necessarily, this required an enormous and very rapid change in what we were able to do on a day to day basis. We closed our doors to clients to minimise the risk to our staff. This was (and is) not ideal, but it was necessary and we have rapidly learned to adapt our working processes to allow us to continue to treat urgent and emergency cases.
After a short period, we also developed a reliable method of posting out essential medications to clients which allowed us to comply with the government guidelines for clients to stay at home and avoid coming to the surgery. We also developed systems for conducting telephone and video consultations to allow us to continue to look after our patients but without putting either our clients or our staff at risk.
The result of this though was a very significant drop in workload meaning we were forced to furlough around 50% of our staff. Those that remained have been working extremely hard to cope with the extraordinary changes to their working environment, trying to explain what has happened and why to our clients, and sadly having to deal with a minority of clients who have not been understanding and have taken their own frustrations out on our staff being rude and verbally abusive. One instance necessitated the police having to be called. We understand that none of what we are all going through currently is what any of us wants, but there can be no excuse for some behaviour and clients behaving in such a manner will no longer be welcome at AlphaPet.
Over the last few weeks, we have gradually been allowed by our governing bodies, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and the British Veterinary association (BVA) to do more work, but we are currently not allowed to go back to anything like normal.
There is still a risk. This risk is increased as the government starts to relax Lockdown for the general population.
The veterinary profession is one of the workplaces where it is impossible to socially distance in all circumstances. It is simply not possible for a veterinary surgeon and a veterinary nurse to carry out a surgical procedure on a small animal and maintain a 2m distance. It is simply not possible to perform a rectal examination on a small dog without a nurse holding the head end and maintain a 2m distance. It is simply not possible to take a blood sample from a cat without someone else holding that cat and being within 2m.
The risks for us are that if one of the team contracts Covid-19, then the whole team can be potentially infected and will necessarily need to self-isolate for 2 weeks, potentially leaving us unable to provide a service to our clients.
The government has now decided to adopt a test and trace policy. Whilst this is a very welcome indicator that things might be starting to improve, this poses additional risks to us. If one of our team tests positive, the whole team may be required to self-isolate for 14 days. If we relax the policy of posting medications, this will result in 80-100 extra visits to our surgeries each day. If one client tests positive and has been deemed to come into contact with our staff, one or more of our team may be required to self-isolate, again potentially leaving us unable to provide an ongoing service to our clients.
Coupled to this is the fact that social distancing means that everything takes much longer to carry out, from consultations (telephone, video or face to face) to medicine dispensing. This requires more staff to provide an appropriate level of service which means we need more staff in the practice making social distancing within the practice even more difficult. Several of our staff are necessarily shielding for medical reasons, which further limits our staffing levels.
We are having to continue to make very difficult decisions as to how we can carry on working safely and continue to provide an appropriate service. Over-riding all of this remains the absolute need to protect the welfare of our patients and whilst we may not currently be able to do all that we would want to do, we will never allow an animal to unnecessarily suffer because of anything to do with Covid-19.
We have to balance the potential risks to our staff with the risks to our clients (difficulties with social distancing as more clients are allowed back to attend the surgery) and the current guidance from our governing bodies and the government.
In common with most other practices, we continue not to allow clients into any of our surgeries in order minimise the risks to our staff. This policy is being continually reviewed and we have already had screens installed at each of our surgeries in preparation to allow a return to face to face consultations indoors when the time is right.
We very much understand, and share, the frustrations voiced by some clients that we continue to be unable to dispense most medications direct from our surgeries. We hope it won’t be long before we can get back to doing so, but now is not that time. Please help us in this regard by using our online system for ordering flea and worm medications rather than phoning the surgery direct. Calling the surgery means that our phone lines are taken up unnecessarily with medication requests when we really need them to allow us to speak to clients about emergencies and urgent cases.
Similarly, we would love to get back to doing routine procedures and face to face consultations again but, for the reasons outlined above, now is not that time. If you have questions about vaccinations and neutering, please email these to us rather than calling us. Again, the more we can keep the phones free for genuinely urgent and emergency cases, the better.
We are aware that some other local practices are apparently doing things differently to AlphaPet. That is their choice and their risk assessment. At AlphaPet, we will not compromise the safety of our staff, our clients or our patients for financial reasons. As soon as it is safe to do so, we will return to normal service.
Please bear with us during these extraordinarily difficult times. Hopefully, we are through the worst if this pandemic in the UK, but we need to find and develop modified and safe Covid-19 working practices and until we can be sure that the infection levels are sufficiently low and that the testing protocols are sufficiently robust, then we cannot relax our protocols further at this time.
We are not like normal businesses, so we are not in a position to return to normal safely yet. Hopefully, we will start to return to some sort of normality very soon, but for all of the above reasons, we are most definitely not “business as usual” and we very much hope that our clients will understand this, the reasons for it, be tolerant and patient and trust that there are very good reasons for why we are having to do what we are doing.
Many thanks from the AlphaPet Team