In a converted pig farm in the depths of the New Forest, a new referral centre is thriving.
Southern Counties Veterinary Specialists was established in October 2008. The referral practice evolved from an orthopaedic and cardio-respiratory referral service run by partners Harry Scott, Stephen Collins and Chris Trickey in a first opinion veterinary hospital.
The partners were keen to continue to improve their service and expand the range of disciplines, but had outgrown the site. After looking for some time, it became apparent that they were not going to find (or get planning permission for) a new site within the National Park, so they redesigned one of their existing sites.
A business unit at Forest Corner Farm in Hangersley, acquired in 2005, was previously used as a dog behaviour, grooming and hydrotherapy centre, but after gutting and refitting it now houses a state-of-the-art referral centre. Since its opening the new venture is proving very successful indeed.
The partners’ backgrounds are firmly in first opinion practice: Harry Scott achieved RCVS specialist status from practice, Stephen Collins began his cardiology diploma studies at Cedar Veterinary Group and Chris Trickey is a general practitioner, although he does no clinical work now, concentrating on ensuring the smooth running of the business.
This background ensures that they understand the importance of taking care of clients and referring practices as well as the patients. Interns in each discipline play an important role in supporting the specialists, not by doing surgery that has been referred to a named surgeon, but by helping with ancillary care and ensuring that contact with the clients and the referring practice is maintained.
This training should also help to ensure that, once they reach specialist status themselves, they are already in the habit of good client care: the partners are keen to pass on their skills to others and are committed to the education of the next generation of specialists.
The specialities currently covered are cardio-respiratory medicine (Stephen Collins, Jo Harris and visiting cardiology specialist Mark Patteson with an intern), orthopaedics (Harry Scott, Mark Bush, resident Philip Witte and two interns), neurology (Katia Marioni-Henry and Sergio Rodenas with an intern), imaging (Andrew Denning and Travis Saveraid), dermatology (Filippo De Bellis), soft tissue surgery (Tony Ryan) and physiotherapy (Donna Scott and Elyse Spooner).
Room to expand
In time, the practice hopes to cover all specialities with at least two recognised specialists in each field and the farm location lends itself well to expansion. The practice is currently taking referrals from most of Hampshire, Dorset and parts of Wiltshire, but does see clients from further afield, including the Isle of Wight and the Channel Islands.
The two sterile operating theatres are larger than would be expected in most practices, which Chris Trickey explained was down to the nature of the work. The orthopaedic surgeons regularly perform joint replacement surgery, which includes Biomedtrix cemented and cementless total hip replacement, knee replacement and TATE elbow replacement. This could require as many as five people to be scrubbed in as well as the space required for the anaesthetist and theatre nurses.
One of the most complex aspects of the practice is diagnostic imaging, which includes ultrasound/echocardiography, direct digital radiography and helical CT. There is a weekly visiting MRI scanner although there are plans to install MRI on site in the near future. All of the images are networked throughout the practice and can be viewed by clients in the consulting rooms.
Physiotherapy is a fairly new field for UK veterinary medicine: SCVS accepts external referrals specifically for post-operative physiotherapy, but the primary focus is on complementing the work of the orthopaedics and neurology departments.
A physiotherapy care plan is put into place immediately after any surgery and is continued until the patient leaves the hospital, when owners are shown how to perform rehabilitation exercises with their pet at home.
Donna Scott, wife of partner Harry, runs this service in conjunction with VN Elyse Spooner: Donna holds the Diploma in Animal Physiotherapy and along with her husband is a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner, a qualification awarded by the University of Tennessee and for which Elyse is currently studying.
In addition to an underwater treadmill, they have therapeutic ultrasound, TENS, neuromuscular electrical stimulation, low level laser, acupuncture and various items of exercise equipment. One which particularly caught my attention was a rather neat system of leg-shaped cuffs through which iced or hot water can be circulated with a series of programmed compressions, which they use routinely after orthopaedic surgery and seems to be better accepted by patients than conventional ice-packs and compression bandages.
Private referral centres have developed over the last 10-15 years into a flourishing sector of the veterinary profession and many areas of the country boast one. The New Forest now has its own to be proud of. Information is on the practice website, www.scvetspecialists.co.uk.