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A timely message: College plans emergency-cover coms campaign

18 March 2010

The RCVS is to embark on an important communications campaign over the next few months to raise awareness amongst the general public of the difficulties that vets face in providing out-of-hours emergency cover, and the responsibilities incumbent on animal owners to know what to do in a veterinary emergency.

 

Emergency cover has been high on the College’s agenda for some time. Over the last 18 months, the RCVS 24/7 Working Party has considered the ongoing desire of vets to continue to offer emergency care 24 hours a day, and the feasibility of delivering this, against a backdrop of the Working Time Regulations, geographical variations in animal and vet density, and increasing practice diversity.

Working Party meetings have been supported by a survey of how vets are currently meeting their 24/7 requirements, a seminar of stakeholders and regular informal polls at RCVS Question Time meetings.

It was agreed at the September 2009 meeting of Advisory Committee, to which the Working Party reports, that the majority of vets remain willing to deliver emergency cover 24/7.

Advisory Committee recommended that a communications project be undertaken to help raise awareness amongst the general public and animal owners that although the veterinary profession continues to make this voluntary commitment, EU rules, geography and financial constraints impose some limitations.

This campaign will kick off soon and focus on spreading messages via animal-owner publications and websites. The responsibility of pet owners to know how they can access emergency care for their animal in advance of need will be stressed, as will the fact that in the absence of an NHS for pets, emergency care is a service for which practices must charge a realistic fee (which is likely to be higher than for day-time work).

The campaign will also outline vets’ responsibilities as part of the Guide, so the public knows what it can reasonably expect. It would be helpful if practices could ensure they have clear information available on their 24/7 arrangements - as outlined in the Guide – should this campaign stimulate requests from clients.

Jerry Davies, who chaired the Working Party, comments: “There is overwhelming opinion within the profession that we must continue to provide round-the-clock veterinary care. The main tenet of the Working Time Regulations is that workers should not have their health or, importantly, skills compromised by unreasonable working patterns. Vets, VNs and the animals they care for deserve the same level of protection.

“However, this legislation has made continuing to provide such care at a reasonable cost to the animal owner a significant challenge. Meeting this challenge will require the understanding and cooperation of the animal owning public.

“If clients can be flexible and accept slightly longer response times, an effective service can still be sustained. The key is for all animal owners to establish, in advance, exactly what will be involved should they need to access veterinary care in an emergency. This simple step will help optimise response times and eliminate the frustration, confusion and inevitable dissatisfaction that may arise if ill-prepared.”

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