Information sharing at heart of Arundel practice

01 March 2013, at 12:00am

JOHN PERIAM visits one of the largest equine- only practices in the UK to see how it operates and the scope of its activities across a wide area of both East and West Sussex

IT was 8am on a typical autumn morning when I drove into The Equine Veterinary Hospital nestled in the picturesque West Sussex Downs on the fringe of Arundel. I was here to see just what is involved in running one of the largest UK equine-only practices.

With a team of three directors, Rob van Pelt, Ed Lyall and Matt Waterhouse, there are 12 other veterinary surgeons.

The practice covers most of West and East Sussex; the area includes several large racing stables; four racecourses (Brighton, Plumpton, Fontwell and Goodwood); The All England Show Jumping Course at Hickstead; several large thoroughbred studs; and endless smaller trainers, competition and livery yards, etc.

Busy by 8 o’clock

Even at 8 o’clock in the morning, the practice is already bustling with horseboxes driving in and out of the car park, yard staff busy mucking out, nurses admitting and discharging patients and vets already starting to deal with the day’s casualties.

Founded in the early 1950s the practice has developed substantially over the years to offer full in-patient facilities around the clock and has the latest state-of-the-art technology including nuclear scintigraphy, digital x-rays, digital ultrasounds, an array of endoscopes and a great deal of other equipment.

Rob van Pelt explains the set-up: “Although we are a large practice, we do work as a team. Many of the vets have developed interests in specific fields. I do a lot of thoroughbred and surgical work, calling on many of the major racing stables. Ed Lyall works a lot with competition horses and also has an interest in breeding, including artificial insemination. Matt Waterhouse specialises in internal medicine and anaesthetics.

Information sharing

“There is a tremendous amount of information sharing within the practice. Each morning and evening there are clinic rounds to examine all in-patients and we also have a full clinic meeting on a Thursday morning where interesting cases are presented. 

“There is a huge amount of internal referral work within the practice where one veterinary surgeon will require assistance from another vet who may know a little more about the case.”

Rob explains that this way, vets can build a relationship with a client; however, if they are unsure in a particular situation they will ask for help but retain management of the case. This way the team and the client get the best service.

It was just this situation where a multi-team approach was used to nurse Tina Cook’s horse Miners Frolic back to form for her silver medal in the team eventing at the London 2012 Olympics.

Several stables warrant a daily call and, during the peak season, often more than one. Some larger stables provide a list that is faxed each evening to the relevant vet so he or she can plan his or her day. The practice also has its own laboratory, which helps speed up any urgent diagnostic tests that are required.

Rob reports that despite the recession having hit the country hard, the practice has done well over the last few years and has continued to expand. He said it was very important to keep up to date with technology.

Last year the bone scan unit was replaced at a cost of over £75,000 and new digital scanners were also purchased.

Attracting the best

“If you keep up with technology then you can attract the highest calibre of vets,” says Rob. “Recently, we advertised for a new intern veterinary surgeon. This person stays in the clinic to learn as much as they can for a fixed contract period. We have received over 40 applicants!”

He continues: “The practice’s ambulatory vets are busy on the road every day looking after routine and emergency calls. The well-being of the horse is our priority: it doesn’t matter if they have just run the Epsom Derby or are a retired 35-year- old pony in the paddock, they all deserve the same attention.”

The All England Show Jumping course at Hickstead is not far from the practice and the Arundel hospital provides the veterinary services. It keeps them very busy having to provide cover in the international arena for all the top classes; carrying out medical checks; providing a veterinary surgeon in passport control; along with coverage of all the outside showing and jumping areas.

Edward Bunn, one of the Hickstead directors, told me: “With the world’s best international show jumpers competing at Hickstead, they expect the very best in veterinary care. The Arundel Equine Hospital provides both vets on the ground and at the back-up facilities at their hospital to provide the care and attention that many of our international competitors are used to.”