AS soon as the Sussex Equine Hospital and vets in Billingshurst Road, Ashington, West Sussex, knew the country was facing an epidemic ,the directors had a meeting to work out how they were going to protect its dedicated staff, writes John Periam.
Senior vet Rob Van Pelt explained: “When we built the hospital we put in an internet-based system, so all the reception team picked up their telephones and computers and went home to work from there.
“Initially we were getting rather wishy-washy instructions from our professional bodies – the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the British Equine Veterinary Association.
“Each case was assessed individually: was it a true emergency, and then how could we minimise risk to the veterinary surgeon attending?
“However, the situation was changing on a day-to-day basis, they would publish guidelines in the morning and these would be out of date in the afternoon.
The latter was done by asking the owner questions about their current health issues, and asking them to think of ways to avoid the vet being contaminated. As the country went into full lockdown, and we were doing emergencies only, we had to make some tough decisions in order to save the practice as a whole.
“At the beginning of March we had twenty horses in the hospital, and the end of March we had just two. I have been a vet for 35 years and I will always remember March 27, 2020, as being the saddest day of my career.
“This was the day we had to furlough 29 staff members. Some of those people I have worked with 25 years plus – they aren’t just employees, they are close friends. Ironically they were so understanding, yet there were a few tears shed.
“Many responded by saying ‘if you get stuck I am happy to muck out’ or they offered kind words of encouragement by saying ‘we will come back stronger for this’.
The practice continues to provide a service using a selected team who could cover all potential problems, including emergency surgery.
Rob added: “Yes, there have been situations where I have been disappointed with some clients’ attitude to the global crisis. We had a few who were phoning around to see who would vaccinate their horse, or investigate their horse’s lameness which had been ongoing for three weeks.
“I am glad to say that all our local practices have abided by the rules and showed solidarity. One person phoned in saying that they had the virus so was at no risk to anyone, so couldn’t see why we were reluctant for them to come and see their horse’s sarcoid.
” I explained that until either a test is developed that can prove that she isn’t a potential risk or the rules of social distancing were lifted, I was unable to do so.
“In conclusion I would like to say that currently we are doing our best for our staff, our clients, our equine patients and humanity. Despite political or religious beliefs we are all in this together. I hope that we can control the spread of the virus to lessen the impact.
” I guess it is not until your loved ones, either in the hospital or even worse that the reality of the crisis hits home.
“Our business will survive and I look forward to the day when everyone returns to work. The welfare of the horse has been and will be what we at the Sussex Equine Hospital have strived for over many years!”