When you work in a veterinary practice, it might seem that you gain few transferable skills outside of the job, other than animal handling and a basic grasp of medicine and surgery. We do indeed have a certain set of skills, but they are pretty niche. One skill, however, that does come in useful is barrier nursing, as does a basic knowledge of respiratory disease transmission. If you have ever had a practice standards scheme (PSS) inspection (ours is due soon so watch this space for an update on that) and do not have a fully functioning isolation kennel set-up, then you will need a standard operating procedure (SOP) for barrier nursing. Like many practices, I know our isolation kennel does exist but has fallen into use as a cupboard, drying room and occasional staff dog kennel. This is not an unusual state of affairs as in reality all kennels and cat wards are maintained hygienically and cross-contamination of urine and faeces is just not an issue in a well-run practice, so a few additional steps to form a complete barrier nursing set-up are a small extra layer of precautions. As such, a separate isolation kennel is seldom used.
Barrier nursing techniques have unfortunately proven a useful skill to have, as two out of five members of my household have tested positive for COVID. Both were vaccinated and both are now recovered, but were fairly poorly during the depths of it (around day three). As test, trace and isolate no longer applies, the other three (including myself) carried out daily testing but continued going to school and work as were well and tested negative. The barrier nursing consisted of splitting the house in two and having a COVID end and non-COVID end, with the living room and kitchen being split on a time basis so when the rest of us were at work or school those areas could be used by those in the COVID ward – a temporal and spatial barrier nursing strategy. It was weird, worrying and lonely for everyone, but successful.
I remember our farm animal medicine lecturer discussing walking around cow sheds with smoking buckets of straw to test for ventilation. And I spent many hours in such sheds as a young vet back in my mixed practice days examining coughing calves, etc. Consequently, I am well aware of the need for good ventilation in housing where respiratory illness is present, and so windows have been wide open at home. We have been doing our bit for global warming in an effort not to freeze the inpatients by having the heating on too.
When the pandemic had barely started, pre-lockdown number one, one of our vets said quite casually but seriously: “Well, we will all just have to get it.” Eighteen months later, herd immunity is slowly coming to the UK. It is, of course, the only way out of a pandemic. With no lockdown restrictions, it looks like COVID is going to find its way into every home and vet practice, but thankfully with vaccinations it should be much less dangerous than last winter. Although we do not have to isolate contacts, the amount of cases means that most practices will likely regularly lose people for 10-day stretches this winter.
With COVID affecting people at work and home, a looming PSS inspection, the Christmas rota to organise, sick leave to cover and working as a full-time vet, I am afraid I won’t have time to write an article this month other than this one. It has been a busy few weeks but I am sure this reflects the experience of many of you in practice at the moment. You are not alone: unless you have COVID, then you better had be alone and stay in your room! Food will be placed at the threshold. See you in 10 days.