A day to remember for Strathaven staff

01 October 2010, at 1:00am

reports on a Scottish practice which was recently honoured by a Royal visit

THE town of Strathaven (pronounced Straven) is a small market town in Lanarkshire on the south side of Glasgow. It sits on the edge of the Avon valley, a tributary of the Clyde, and is a rural community with strong historical links to the Covenanters of the 17th Century who fought against the English monarchs. 

Nowadays it is surrounded by agricultural land but is also a dormitory town for people who work in the nearby conurbations of East Kilbride, Hamilton and Glasgow. 

The name of the veterinary practice which serves the area, Avondale Veterinary Group, is relatively new, but the practice has roots in Strathaven going back to 1921. The current partnership of vets Tim Caldwell, Sally Yuill and Ross Syme was formed in 2005. Back then the practice occupied two sites in the town, one for small animal work and another for the equine and farm animal arms of the group.

Having grown considerably in recent years, partly by acquisition and partly by recommendation and reputation, it eventually became clear that if the practice was to provide the sort of services the partners deemed fit for the 21st century it was going to have to move and modernise. The result is a one million pound investment in purpose-built premises on a greenfield site on the edge of town.

“The beauty of where we are,” explains Tim Caldwell, “is that there’s plenty of parking, space for the surgery and a proper equine facility, a great view out to Tinto hill (one of the local landmarks), and a coffee shop next door at the agricultural centre. All in all we are very pleased with it.” The new premises first opened on 3rd August 2009 and the clients are rightly impressed. A large air- conditioned waiting room greets them; appointments are from 10 to 20 minutes depending on the condition being investigated; there is a separate prep area; two positive-pressure clean operating theatres and another “dirty” one for dentals; plus digital x-ray, ultrasound and a host of other in-house facilities.

“The digital x-ray is a real asset,” says Tim. “It’s great to be able to x-ray an animal and almost immediately be able to show the owner exactly what is wrong. And we must be doing something right because we’ve grown to a total of 13 vets, six veterinary nurses and two animal nursing assistants, plus eight administration and support staff which includes a full-time practice manager.”

As practices go, Avondale is about as mixed as they come. There are three vets dedicated solely to horses, six to small animals, and four who largely work with farm clients, including a good mix of dairy, beef and sheep.

It means that there are always three vets on call out of hours to cover the three specialties, plus an on-call veterinary nurse on the small animal side. 

As part of its desire to be an integral part of the community, the practice hosted an open day for its clients back in June of this year. It turned into a spectacular success with a turn out of over 500 people.

“It was a marvellous opportunity to show our clients what was on offer behind the scenes,” said practice manager Alison Summers. “All the staff mucked in and I can safely say that a good time was had by all.”

Perhaps the highlight of the year though arrived just last month when, on 6th September, the practice had a once- in-a-lifetime experience. The Princess Royal carried out an official visit, first to the next door agricultural company, and then spent 40 minutes or so touring the veterinary practice.


“I think she made time to speak to every member of staff present,” said Tim Caldwell, “and I was really impressed by how well informed she was. She was also right on the ball: it didn’t take her long to work out that the Labrador bitch Maddie, on which we demonstrated some ultrasound procedures, was my own dog and simply standing in for the day.

“She toured the whole surgery including the equine block where she was shown round by two of the three equine vets, Susan Donaldson and Kathleen Innes. We showed her the indoor stables with Supersoft Equimat flooring, the examination stocks and the CCTV monitoring which means that the vet on call can keep a watch on things from the comfort of his or her home.

“Plus we’ve got areas for hard and soft lungeing. I think she was pretty impressed by it all and she was very keen to ask about the conditions and treatment of the in-patients that were there that day.

“We’re very fortunate to have two world-class equine centres, at the Glasgow and Edinburgh vet schools, close by,” continued Tim. “So we can easily refer major surgical cases using our own dedicated transport unit to take advantage of the expertise and facilities offered there.”

The Princess was accompanied by her lady in waiting and the Lord Lieutenant of Lanarkshire and his wife. As can be seen from the photos, all the staff thoroughly enjoyed the occasion and it’s not everyday that a veterinary practice receives “Royal Assent”.

So despite the current recession there appears to be a great future ahead at Avondale with a lot of confidence in the practice’s ability to offer what clients demand: the best of patient care in modern surroundings and at a price that is affordable. A model perhaps for private veterinary practice in the modern era.