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Coronavirus: new guidance for how veterinary professions can help the national effort against COVID-19

9 April 2020

Following many requests from veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses on how they can help in the national effort against coronavirus (COVID-19), we have published new guidance for the professions on how to best utilise their skills and experience.

Over the past few weeks, the RCVS has been in discussion with a number of other parties in order to clarify the situation and develop appropriate guidance for those members of the profession who wish to help.

The guidance highlights certain areas of critical national importance in which veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses can use their skills, particularly around keeping the food supply chain operational during the lockdown period.

This includes maintaining the food supply as a Red or White Meat Official Veterinarian (OV), and supporting the livestock industry and the animal product export/import industry. Other areas where veterinary professionals can contribute are through donating veterinary equipment that can be re-purposed for use by the NHS, for example, ventilators, anaesthetic equipment/gases, and personal protective equipment and signing up to the NHS ‘volunteer army’.

One of the most common queries received by the RCVS regarding how veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses can help, is around whether they could use their skills and expertise in frontline clinical roles within the National Health Service. We are also aware that some NHS Trusts are already advertising for assistance or approaching veterinary professionals directly.

Eleanor FergusonEleanor Ferguson, RCVS Registrar (pictured right), said: “While all of us recognise and admire the desire of veterinary professionals to play a frontline clinical role in the fight against coronavirus, it must be remembered that there are certain legal restrictions on the assistance they can lawfully provide and how they should represent themselves to patients.

“We recognise that the government’s current priority is in re-recruiting retired and non-practising medical health professionals, and granting provisional registration to final-year medical students, and that the General Medical Council is making significant advances in these areas.

"To this end, we would encourage veterinary professionals to first consider what assistance they might be able to provide to the livestock production, meat hygiene and food import/export industries, before volunteering to assist directly with local NHS Trusts.

"If local NHS Trusts do choose to employ veterinary professionals to undertake roles that are not reserved by law to licensed doctors, nurses or other regulated professionals, they must be satisfied that the individual has the skills and competences to do that role. However, any veterinary professionals employed in these roles should not misrepresent their position to patients and must be careful not to hold themselves out as a licensed medical doctor or nurse."

We would urge veterinary professionals who wish to get involved in the national effort against coronavirus to read and consider its guidance in full before making any decisions, and also to consult our Standards & Advice Team.

Dr Niall Connell, RCVS President, commented: "With many members of the professions having been put on reduced hours or furlough, we understand that there is a big group of veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses who are extremely keen to utilise their immense talents in helping the fight against this terrible pandemic.

"First and foremost, we would like to emphasise that veterinary professionals should be, where at all possible, looking to contribute where their unique skillsets are most needed. Continuing to maintain the food-chain and keep the country fed is of critical importance at these times and so any additional capacity that can be spared in those sectors would be most appreciated.

"There are also many ways in which veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses can indirectly aid the National Health Service as well, without necessarily being in the frontline of medical provision."

UK Chief Vet, Christine Middlemiss added: "It’s great to see so many vets are determined to help tackle coronavirus. I encourage those who are interested in helping the national effort to read the guidance from the RCVS and offer their assistance to livestock production, food supply chain and, where appropriate, to donate equipment that can be repurposed for the NHS."

A webpage of coronavirus guidance, including FAQs, is available on this website.  

The RCVS Standards & Advice Team is available to contact on advice@rcvs.org.uk or 020 7202 0789

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