September 23rd 2021

Understanding the New Challenges Faced by Veterinary Practices

In a recent article published by the British Veterinary Association (BVA), the organisation urged potential pet owners to think properly about taking on a new pet. The reason for this recommendation has to do with the nationwide struggle that practices are currently facing when it comes to high demand being complicated by staff shortages. This struggle has been so severe in certain cases that some practices have had to close their books to new clients.

It will no doubt be invaluable for clients to understand the reasons for these struggles in order to appreciate the novel challenges currently being faced in the veterinary sector.

In short, it is the three following causes which are responsible for disrupting veterinary practices:

  • There has been a dramatic drop in vets from overseas now that the UK has left the EU – the BVA reported that between January and May of 2021, the UK welcomed only 155 vets from the EU. In the same period in 2019, it welcomed well over 500
  • Self-isolation rules mean that existing staff members are occasionally unable to fulfil their duties
  • There has been a significant number of households acquiring pets during the pandemic, driving demand for vet services much higher. Specifically, the PFMA revealed that over 3 million UK households have taken on a new pet since March of 2020.

All interconnected, these causes have understandably placed an enormous amount of stress on the professionals who work in the sector. Indeed, in the absence of additional resources to help manage the other two challenges, staff are working at capacity to ensure that care is delivered and provide clients with standard of service the practice strives to deliver and clients have come to expect. Of course, despite their best efforts, there will inevitably be instances where clients are made to wait longer than they may have expected, communication may be delayed or clients are unable to easily schedule more routine consultations.

With this in mind, it is not difficult to imagine that some clients may feel frustrated, and this is heightened when concerned about the health and welfare of their pet. This has placed additional pressure on the client/practice relationship.

As has been seen in other areas of society, this has bubbled over and interactions have meant veterinary professionals have felt intimidated and abused as a consequence of angry, aggressive or confrontational behaviour by clients. The BVA recently reporting that more than six in 10 vets have been intimidated by the language or behaviour of clients in the past year. In some instances, reactions may be unrelated to events in the practice. In other scenarios, the escalation may be triggered by feelings of frustration or fear experienced by clients, as well as a desire for more information or misunderstandings.

In order to prevent further instances of such interactions, it is vital that both vets and clients understand the struggles which exist on both sides of the relationship. More explicitly, vets will be trying to interact with pet owners in a way which appreciates the distress that an impaired service can create. Similarly, pet owners may need to appreciate the complex and considerable range of struggles affecting the veterinary sector currently makes it difficult for vets to provide the same service they did before, despite the best efforts of the veterinary professionals within practice.

In summary, vets and practices are having to perform their regular duties whilst at the same time navigating these novel obstacles. Resolving these obstacles will necessarily take some time before practices are able to return to business as usual.

Having reflected on the mediations conducted by the VCMS, Jennie Jones, Head of VCMS comments:

As we all navigate these ongoing challenges, remembering that everyone involved will be focused on the care of the animal, and that good dialogue and a greater degree of compassion between vets and pet owners will be crucial in maintaining a good relationship, resolving issues as they arise and avoiding unnecessary stress for all. Most importantly, it allows everyone involved to remain focused on achieving the best possible outcome for the animals involved.

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