‘People mainly respect what we do’ - Veterinary Practice
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‘People mainly respect what we do’

GARETH CROSS introduces a new column discussing matters of topical interest to colleagues

MY dog helped me perform my second seaside rescue last week. A Labrador she had been playing with decided he wanted to run the length of the beach and then start swimming out to sea.

The owners couldn’t keep up with him so Nell and I ran a mile or so along the beach and waded out to drag him out of the sea. The owners were very grateful, but I was just ecstatic to meet a dog with less brain and poorer obedience than my own.

My first seaside rescue was at Porlock Weir in Somerset. The Severn estuary has the second biggest vertical tidal range in the world and comes up frighteningly quickly.

A large flat coat retriever had got his carpus wedged between two boards on the harbour side. A crowd of panicky people had assembled round him, one wielding a large bread knife.

On the opposite harbour wall, several families, including my wife and children and some friends, were watching the drama unfold. As the water lapped his feet and then went over them and no progress was being made with the rescue, I went over to see if I could help.

I said, “Can I have a look?” No reaction. The wannabe Baywatch stars, owners and bread knife-man were fully absorbed in their panic. I foolishly added, “I’m a vet.”

When I said it everyone literally took a step back. This reaction amazed me and reminded me what a high regard our profession is still held in. For all the moaning about fees, etc., people mainly still deeply respect what we actually do. You could see the echoes of that phrase going back to Herriot.

To be honest, I should have just said, “I’ve got half an ounce of common sense and am the only one here not panicking.” I organised the dog to be rotated into lateral recumbency with the crowd acting as nurses (as a vet I obviously did no actual lifting) and the dog was easily elevated out of the crack and freed.

From the opposite side of the harbour a small child’s voice shouted, “Daddy saved the dog, Daddy saved the dog.” My heart swelled with pride, but I turned round and I saw it was the pillock with the bread knife’s family cheering and he was dancing round waving the knife like he’d saved the day.

My wife, who is also a vet, had taken the children round the corner to the beach to throw rocks in the sea. This was obviously much more exciting than watching me in action. She has a highly developed lack of interest in any of my veterinary activities. I spoke at BSAVA this year and she was genuinely surprised when I turned down her offer to sit in the audience for “moral support”!

We are currently deciding what to do vis-à-vis my wife’s return to work. The main difficulty is we can’t agree which is the lesser of two evils: work or childcare. I have occasionally offered to give up work and donate her my job. There then follows a sort of Mexican stand-off for a while and we eventually (so far) decide to keep the status quo.

Dividing chores

Some friends of mine divide chores into “blue jobs” and “pink jobs”, depending on whether the job in question is one carried out normally by a bloke or a girl. For example, taking the bins out is a blue job.

Being a vet used to be a blue job but with around 80% of undergraduates being female for the last few years it is becoming an increasingly pink job. Having a baby is definitely a pink job, which is a good thing as it looks like it hurts a bit. However that’s just the start of it.

The veterinary press’s letters’ pages often feature stories regarding poor employment practices with regards to maternity leave, and I’ve heard some pretty shocking ones too. An interesting and less discussed angle, however, is employers’ maternity experience.

I was recently talking to a practice owner who is expecting her third baby. After a caesarean for number two she had to return to the practice five days post-op to re-operate on a bitch spay done by her replacement locum. As an employee, at least you can walk out of the door at the start of maternity leave and wave goodbye, “See you in 12 months.” If you are the boss, that’s unlikely to happen.

The return to work is also beset with hurdles. Leaving aside the individual practice experience, the expense required is considerable. VDS cover and RCVS membership together is about £600. Neither organisation makes any allowance for part-time hours.

So, if you only work one or two days a week, you pay the same as someone working full time. The VDS tells me it is looking into making pro-rata allowances, the RCVS has no plans to even consider it.

If you take after-tax locum rates (most employed vets will be slightly under this) to pay for RCVS and VDS cover would cost about five days’ wages. If you work full time that’s a week; if you do one day a week that means you work for a month just to cover the costs to be able to walk in the door as a vet.

For employers it means to employ one full-time vet is £600-ish a year. If you job share to make one full-time equivalent with one other person (so the practice is getting no extra vet hours) it’ll be £1,200 and vets working fewer days cost proportionately more.

So there are economic disincentives for self-employed vets to return to work and for practices to employ part-time vets. As the veterinary profession slowly turns pink and job-sharing becomes the norm, this is something that should be looked at.

The same goes for CPD. A vet who works fewer days gets less allowance, but is still required to fulfil the same number of hours. I am not suggesting that part-time vets should be less well trained, but it is another hidden cost of being a part-time vet.

It is a personal choice to have children, but it seems a little unfair that the subscriptions to allow you to practise are the same even if you only work a few hours a week.

Certainly, from the insurance point of view, if you are only at work a few days a week your risk must be less. I know there is an increased risk of getting complaints if you are unfamiliar, but a day a week or a few mornings must put you at reduced risk than a full-time vet?

Obviously the RCVS does a great job and I would be the first to volunteer to pay more to subsidise part-time members…

■ Any observant readers with good memories will have spotted that I have covered none of the issues trailed for this issue in last month’s article. I did have a good bit for “a peer into the mind of a stressed vet” but I’ve cheered up a bit since then. If anyone has any comments, feedback or ideas to plagiarise, please e-mail me on garethcross@hotmail.com.

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