Coronavirus (COVID-19)

In early March, RCVS President Niall Connell wrote to all veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses on our registers to offer general advice and reassurance in light of the rapidly developing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak around the world and increasingly in the UK. In that letter, he explained that we would publish some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) giving advice on more specific situations.

On 23 March 2020, the government introduced further measures as part of the fight against coronavirus. Among other things, these measures require people to stay at home, except for very limited purposes, and close non-essential shops and community spaces. These measures are in addition to the closing of non-essential businesses and the existing guidance on social distancing.

We appreciate these new measures will raise many questions in the collective mind of the profession and we have answered some of the most frequently asked questions below.

Following new measures to help spread the cost of annual renewal fees and waive late-fee for veterinary surgeons, we have published a separate page of FAQs relating to retention fees for veterinary surgeons.

It is of course impossible to provide guidance on every situation that might arise. Therefore, if you have specific queries that go beyond the advice set out below, please contact the relevant team via the details provided at the end of each question.

We will to continue to monitor the situation as it evolves, including the questions we receive from the profession, and may amend, or add to, these FAQs accordingly.

Last updated 31 March 2020

Frequently Asked Questions

Coronavirus advice

  • Veterinary practices are not on the list of businesses and premises that need to close and, as such, may open where necessary.

    However, in order to comply with government guidance, the number of clients seen face-to-face should be kept to an absolute minimum (see FAQ 2) and, where clients are seen, you should ensure you follow the relevant guidance on social distancing.

    In terms of those working within the practice, vulnerable employees (eg those who are aged over 70, have underlying health conditions or are pregnant) should be encouraged to stay at home.

    Other team members should only attend the practice when necessary.

    You should also familiarise yourself with, and follow, the government’s guidance for employers and businesses to ensure you are following best practice to curb the spread of the virus and protect your team.

    Contact the Advice Team: advice@rcvs.org.uk or 020 7202 0789

    Last updated: 24 March 2020

  • Although veterinary practices may remain open, in order to comply with the most recent government requirements, the number of clients  seen face-to-face should be kept to an absolute minimum.

    Furthermore, clients and/or veterinary professionals should only travel to see animals if judged essential to do so. This means that animals should only be seen in emergencies or where, in the judgement of the veterinary surgeon, urgent assessment and/or treatment is needed in order to reduce the risk of patient deterioration to the point where it may become an emergency in the near future (ie within the three-week time frame currently laid out by the Government for these measures).

    We are currently working with other relevant organisations to develop further guidance on what may and may not fall into these categories however, this will take time and so, in the meantime, we ask you to exercise your judgement as to when it is necessary for you to see an animal and/or their owner in person.

    Further guidance will also be provided as the Government’s longer term position is clarified.

    Routine treatments, other than those essential to maintaining the future food supply chain, should not be carried out until further notice.

    You may, however, offer your clients advice and consultation services via remote means, including prescribing POM-V medicines where appropriate (see FAQ 3).

    The same principles apply if you usually work in an ambulatory role, for example if you are an equine or farm vet.

    Contact the Advice Team: advice@rcvs.org.uk or 020 7202 0789

    Last updated: 25 March 2020

  • You should only see the animal in person in an emergency or where treatment is urgent to prevent a future emergency (see FAQ 2). You will therefore need to decide whether the animal needs to be seen now, or whether treatment can be delayed. If, after triaging the animal, you still feel it is necessary to see them, consider whether it could be brought to you (or you go to it) without putting your own, or someone else’s, health at unnecessary risk.

    For example, ask whether another person can bring the animal to the practice, or another appropriate location, on the owner’s behalf.

    The current guidance from the World Health Organisation is that there is no evidence that companion animals can be infected with the new coronavirus. However, if you do decide to see the animal in person, normal biosecurity measures, as well as additional government guidance on hand washing, should be observed.

    Consider the extent to which you can assist remotely - this may include giving advice via remote means as to how to manage the animal’s condition at home. It may also include remote prescribing of POM-V medicines where there is no other option (eg a medicine categorised as a POM-VPS, NFA-VPS, or AVM-GSL) that would be a suitable alternative, and where you are satisfied the risk is outweighed by the benefit (see FAQ 4 for full details). In this scenario, document your rationale for your decision making to ensure you can justify your actions if asked to do so.

    You should ensure that there is a plan in place for the animal to be physically checked as soon as possible especially in the case of adverse reactions. However, please remember that in order to comply with current government guidance, face-to-face services should be kept to an absolute minimum and only occur when necessary (see FAQs 1 & 2).

    There may be instances where, in order to ensure your own safety, an animal needs to be taken away from its owners to undergo treatment, or euthanasia, for welfare reasons. This is likely to be particularly upsetting as most owners will want to be with their animal when they are put to sleep. As such, you may wish to consider whether you can direct them to an appropriate source of support, for example a bereavement or counselling service.

    Contact the Advice Team: advice@rcvs.org.uk or 020 7202 0789

    Last updated: 24 March 2020

     

  • Under normal circumstances, this is not permitted by the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct or supporting guidance. However, in light of recent government guidance to limit non-essential contact with others, RCVS Council has decided that there should be a temporary departure from this position and that remote prescribing of POM-V medicines should be permitted where it is appropriate to do so (see below). RCVS Council will review this position on an ongoing basis and in any event, no later than 30 June 2020.

    We hope that this will enable veterinary surgeons to continue prioritising animal welfare without putting themselves, or their colleagues, at risk.  

    These are exceptional circumstances and as such you may prescribe POM-V medicines via remote means where there is no other option, eg a medicine categorised as a POM-VPS, NFA-VPS, or AVM-GSL, that would be a suitable alternative and you are satisfied that any risk to the animal is outweighed by the benefit.

    Before making your decision, you should consider the following:

    • Whether immediate action is necessary in the interests of animal welfare.
    • Whether treatment can be delayed until a physical examination is possible.
    • Whether it is possible to examine the animal without having contact with the owner and if so, whether it would assist.
    • The nature of the medication.
    • The appropriate quantity, taking into account factors such as the length of time until a physical examination of the animal will be possible and the length of time until the owner will be able to access medication by other means.
    • The risks and benefits to the animal.
    • The client’s view and understanding of the risks .

    You should also ensure that:

    • any consent given by the client is fully informed
    • you make detailed notes of your decision and the reasons for it
    • you can justify any decision that you make.

    If POM-V medication is prescribed remotely, you should provide the owner with all of the information they need to administer the medicine safely and ensure they have a means to contact you (or a colleague) in the event they have any questions or problems. When prescribing remotely, you should also ensure you follow the BSAVA Guide to the Use of Veterinary Medicines, which contains useful information in relation to emailing prescriptions and posting veterinary medicines. See also the Royal Mail’s guidance on posting prescription medication.

    NB If you are approached by members of the public who are not existing clients of your practice where possible they should be directed to the practice where they are registered in the first instance. Our current supporting guidance on ‘Communication between professional colleagues’ may be useful.

    Contact the Advice Team: advice@rcvs.org.uk or 020 7202 0789

    Last updated: 24 March 2020

    • Where it is necessary to see an animal in person:
      • ask clients if they or a member of their household are currently self-isolating or have tested positive for the virus when booking appointments and before attending any home/farm visits or offsite consultations
      • reduce the number of people attending the premises to the absolute minimum (see FAQ 2) and limit physical contact with clients wherever possible (see FAQs 1 & 2). This could be achieved by asking that only one person accompanies an animal when attending the practice, or by asking clients to wait in the waiting room, outside or even their cars while you examine their animal. The consultation with the owner could then take place over the telephone.
    • Carry out risk assessments for all staff and observe government guidance on social distancing
    • Encourage team members who are considered vulnerable, eg are aged over 70, have underlying health issues or are pregnant, to stay at home.
    • Familiarise yourself with, and follow, the government’s guidance for employers and businesses to ensure you are following best practice to curb the spread of the virus and protect your team.
    • Familiarise yourself with guidance on infection prevention and control from the UK Government and devolved administrations (where available, as follows) and consider whether any of the suggested measures could be applicable and implemented at your practice:

    Contact the Advice Team: advice@rcvs.org.uk or 020 7202 0789

    Last updated: 24 March 2020

  • It may assist to draw your employer’s attention to the most recent guidance for employers and businesses and social distancing.

    If you are concerned about how the virus may affect your employment, for example you are in the government’s list of vulnerable adults (eg those aged over 70, with underlying health conditions, or who are pregnant) and you wish to stay at home, you should refer to the government guidance for employees.

    In addition, there is also specific coronavirus advice from ACAS for both employers and employees.

    If you are a member of BVA, you may also wish to consider contacting its legal helpline (details accessed through your member area), which can assist with matters relating to your employment.

  • We appreciate the challenges that self-isolation could present for CPD planning, at least in the short term, and the disappointment and difficulties caused by learning events and conferences are increasingly being postponed or cancelled. We understand that, in some cases, the organisers of cancelled events are working to make the learning resources available online instead.

    However, our CPD policy for vets and vet nurses already allows for many different types of learning and development, not just attending physical events. While going to conferences and other events may not be possible for many for the time being, there is a wide variety of CPD that you can still access, including webinars, online learning, and reading relevant journals.

    There is a range of resources that you may find helpful on our website, including blogposts and videos about types of CPD to consider. Please visit www.rcvs.org.uk/cpd2020.

    We would certainly expect you to prioritise your own health and welfare, and that of others, and to follow the latest government advice. In the meantime, we will continue to monitor the situation closely and update these FAQs accordingly.

    Contact the CPD team: cpd@rcvs.org.uk or 020 3795 5595

    Last updated: 20 March 2020

  • Following recent discussions with Vet Schools Council (VSC), RCVS Council has agreed to temporarily suspend its Extra-Mural Studies (EMS) requirements for UK veterinary students, in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

    Read the full statement on our temporary EMS suspension.

    We will review this position in eight weeks' time.

    Contact the Education Team: education@rcvs.org.uk / 020 7202 0791

    Last updated: 16 March 2020

  • Several universities have expressed concerns regarding student veterinary nurses’ attendance/employment in clinical placement over the coming weeks, due to the precautions around transmission of Coronavirus.

    This applies, in the main, to students in all years of a programme, although there are particular concerns as to the impact this will have on final-year students being unable to complete the required number of hours in order to complete their programme and achieve their licence to practise qualification.

    There have also been concerns raised over the completion of the RCVS Day One Skills for Veterinary Nurses (DOS) should students be unable to attend their clinical placements.

    RCVS Day One Competences and Day One Skills for Veterinary Nurses set out the minimum essential requirements that we expect all student nurses to have met when they register, to ensure they are safe and competent to practise on day one, in whichever area of the profession they start to work. 

    Universities and awarding organisations have requested a degree of flexibility around the RCVS VN Registration Rules and completion of the RCVS Day One Skills, in light of the Covid-19 situation.

    The following therefore applies:

    • We recognise that it should not be compulsory for students to complete clinical placements within the next eight weeks, after which the situation will be reviewed. This will apply to students in any year of their studies.
    • We recognise that for students in their final year of study, it may be difficult for them to make up the hours of clinical placement missed prior to achieving their qualification. Universities and colleges should continue to support students and explore alternatives, however any shortfall relative to the requirements should not be a barrier to completion of the programme.
    • For BSc students in years 1 to 3 of their studies, FdSc students in years 1 and 2 of their studies and first year further education students, we would expect that there will be sufficient time for them to make up the number of hours prior to completing the programme. However we will review this as the Covid-19 pandemic progresses.
    • Student veterinary nurses will still be required to complete the Day One Skills for Veterinary Nurses in their totality as these seek to assure competency at the point of registration. Where a student has completed the Day One Skills in fewer than the 1,800 hours, this will be assessed on a case-by-case basis on application to register.

    NB We have also published advice about OSCEs and unseen examinations - please read FAQ12

    Contact the VN team:  vetnursing@rcvs.org.uk / 020 7202 0788

    Last updated: 27 March 2020

  • On 20 March 2020, we published a joint statement with the British Veterinary Association containing guidance on the status of veterinary surgeons as 'key workers' in relation to school closures as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.

    This follows lobbying of government by both the RCVS and BVA in recent days.

    Read the full statement here

  • Routine vaccinations, eg annual boosters in an otherwise healthy animal, are currently not considered urgent (see BVA guidance for veterinary practices in assessing emergency and urgent care), however there may be scenarios where, in your professional judgement, vaccines are being given to reduce a real and imminent risk of disease; this includes in the face of an animal disease outbreak, or in a scenario where part of a vaccine course has been given and the animal may be exposed to the disease.

    In this case, as always, veterinary judgement is paramount and the risk of leaving an incomplete course must be weighed against the ability to see the animal whilst maximising social distancing.

    NB if the Government’s social distancing restrictions last longer than the current review date of 13 April, this guidance may change further.

    Contact the Advice Team: advice@rcvs.org.uk / 020 7202 0789

    Last updated: 26 March 2020

  • In light of the UK government’s announcement on Monday 23 March 2020 around reducing all non-essential contact, RCVS Veterinary Nurses Council has asked all veterinary nursing educators to defer their OSCE assessments for a period of three months.

    Following consideration of a number of alternative methods of delivery for the OSCE assessment, it was concluded that none was possible under the current circumstances and the health and welfare of students and examiners are paramount.

    In addition, VN Council is encouraging both further and higher education institutions to ensure students can continue to progress academically and has requested that institutions use secure systems to deliver any unseen assessments or defer these assessment until such time as they can be appropriately and safely delivered.

    Read our full statement

    NB We have also published advice about clinical placements - please read FAQ 9

    Contact the VN team:  vetnursing@rcvs.org.uk / 020 7202 0788

    Last updated: 27 March 2020

  • We recognise that remote approval and quality monitoring activities will reduce the risk of Coronavirus transmission to college staff, training practice staff, students and the public.

    Utilisation of desk-based activities and video-conferencing technology should be considered during this unique time.

    Where remote centre or training practice approval has taken place, we would expect a follow-up visit in person once the coronavirus outbreak is under control, in line with the prevailing government advice.

    Contact the VN team:  vetnursing@rcvs.org.uk / 020 7202 0788

    Last updated: 27 March 2020

  • In light of the UK Government’s advice on reducing transmission through social distancing measures, as well as a number of travel bans being put in place on an international level, we have made the decision to postpone the 2020 diet of the Statutory Membership Examination.

    We are exploring options for running the written component of the examination remotely, whilst also ensuring that appropriate security measures are in place to ensure the integrity of the examination, with the aim of carrying this out during the summer of 2020. 

    Due to the suspension of teaching at all UK veterinary schools, the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) component will also be postponed. We are working closely with the venue to secure new dates for the end of 2020.

    Our Education Team is supporting all 2020 Statutory Examination candidates with regular updates, and can be contacted on rcvsexam@rcvs.org.uk or 020 7965 1104.

    Last updated: 31 March 2020

  • As is the case for all veterinary services, in order to comply with the most recent government requirements, you should keep to an absolute minimum the number of clients seen face-to-face.

    This means that you should only see animals in emergencies or where, in the judgement of the referring veterinary surgeon, urgent referral is needed in order to reduce the risk of patient deterioration to the point where it may become an emergency in the near future, ie within the three-week time frame currently laid out by the Government for these initial measures).

    For further guidance, please refer to the BVA guidance for veterinary practices in assessing emergency and urgent care.

    If a face-to-face appointment is necessary, contact with the animal’s owner should be limited as much as possible and the government’s guidance on social distancing should be observed.

    In a referral/specialist setting, you should also consider the following factors:

    • The urgency of any new referral, and whether it can be delayed with minimal risk to the patient
    • The location of the referral centre, ensuring that it is as close to the client as possible in order to avoid unnecessary travel
    • The extent to which remote means can be used to offer tailored advice and/or other services to veterinary colleagues and clients (for more information relating to remote prescribing, see FAQ 4)
    • The need for physical rechecks of ongoing referral patients; some physical rechecks may be necessary, eg for the administration of chemotherapy or management of orthopaedic apparatus, but these should be performed only having considered whether a remote or more local approach is possible

    This guidance will be reviewed on a regular basis as the situation develops.

    Contact the Advice Team: advice@rcvs.org.uk or 020 7202 0789

    Last updated 31 March 2020