In July, I wrote to let you know that the Standards Committee had decided to extend the operation of our temporary guidance on remote prescribing until 30 September 2021. The Committee had hoped that, by this time, the effects of the pandemic would have become more manageable, and practices would be under less pressure, as a result.
Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case, with practices and employers telling us that the pandemic continues to impact veterinary teams and provision of services.
On top of this, we have seen a recent spike in cases in Scotland following the return to school, which we expect to see mirrored across the rest of the UK, and are aware that the UK Government has included the possibility of requiring people to work from home as part of its ‘Plan B’ measures if high rates continue.
Consequently, the Standards Committee has this week decided to extend the operation of the temporary guidance on remote prescribing for a further month, until midnight on 31 October 2021.
The temporary derogation remains subject to the specific guidance found in FAQ4, including that you must be able provide a 24/7 follow-up service involving physical examination, for example where the animal does not improve, or suffers an adverse reaction, or deteriorates, subsequent to the remote prescription of medicines.
As previously, the Committee will continue to monitor the ongoing effects of the pandemic and keep this position under review.
Throughout the pandemic, veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses have done an exceptional job in continuing to provide veterinary care for the nation’s animals during extremely difficult circumstances.
Whilst Covid conditions continue to be challenging, we are very aware that the professions continue to face additional difficulties, particularly in meeting demand for services with a reduced workforce during what is a very busy time.
The reasons for the current veterinary workforce shortage are complex and, while already in existence to a certain extent prior to the outbreak, have been exacerbated by a number of factors in the last 18 months.
These include a reduction in the number of overseas-qualified veterinary surgeons to enter the UK workforce since EU Exit; the impact of the pandemic on the available veterinary workforce due to illness, burnout and fatigue; and, the reported increase in pet ownership during lockdown with a knock-on increase in demand for veterinary services.
We appreciate the additional pressure these shortages are placing on already-stretched veterinary teams at the moment, for the provision of both routine treatment during normal working hours and emergency cover out of hours.
In the face of current shortages, I would like to stress that we support practice teams in prioritising cases strictly according to the health and welfare needs of their patients, and in informing their clients of the need to do so,
We would also urge veterinary surgeons to share their caseload as much as possible, delegating permitted procedures to their veterinary nurse colleagues wherever appropriate to do so.
And, we would like to remind veterinary surgeons that their current 24/7 emergency cover obligations, as set out in the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct, are limited only to taking steps to provide 24-hour emergency first-aid and pain relief to animals according to their skills and the specific situation.
To help with different situations that may encountered at the moment, particularly around the provision of 24/7 emergency cover, and to provide further guidance on delegating procedures to veterinary nurses, we have provided some FAQs (below).
Finally, we understand the worry amongst veterinary professionals who may feel they are currently unable to offer the level of service they would like to and who may be anxious about the potential for an increase in associated concerns raised by clients with the RCVS at the present time.
In all situations, but particularly during this very busy time, we would urge veterinary professionals to rely on their professional judgement, to act reasonably in the circumstances, and to ensure they can justify their actions and decisions via the recording of detailed contemporaneous notes.
Although we do have a responsibility to investigate any concern that is raised with us, we will always consider the entire circumstances of the case, including any attempts to meet Code requirements.
We will also continue to raise awareness amongst animal owners of the acute challenges currently facing veterinary teams around the country, and to request their ongoing patience and understanding.
On behalf of RCVS Council, I should again like to thank you for your ongoing hard work and commitment to maintaining the health and welfare of our animals during these difficult days.
We will continue to review the latest situations around both Covid restrictions and workforce shortages and keep you up to date with our latest guidance.
In the meantime, our review of under care and provision of 24/7 emergency cover is due to report later this year, and we are currently organising a summit with employers and veterinary/veterinary nursing organisations to explore innovative ways to tackle the workforce shortages.
Dr Kate Richards BVM&S MRCVS