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Investing in the future: introducing the super surgery

by
01 July 2017, at 1:00am

visits Vets4Pets’ clinic in Milton Keynes, which has received substantial investment to expand as the city around it grows too

ROOM AT THE TOP and The Longest Day may sit rather uncomfortably together as a cinematic double bill, but the titles of those two Oscar-winning 1960s films combine rather better to tell the story of the Milton Keynes Vets4Pets veterinary clinic. The practice run by Vets4Pets joint venture partner Huw Morgan- Jones has undergone some dramatic changes over the past year or so, all aimed at providing a better service for pet owners in the fastestgrowing city in the UK. They involve both an upward extension of the clinic’s working space and an expansion in the time that it is open for business. Huw, a 1996 graduate of the Bristol veterinary school, has been at the practice since 2007, eight years after it opened within the Pets at Home store close by Milton Keynes Central station. Then owned by the Companion Care group, the surgery employed just two full-time veterinary surgeons. Now the clinical team has grown to five full-time and two part-time vets, three qualified and two student veterinary nurses, one animal care assistant and five part-time receptionists. Alison Sweeting, who joined the practice as a part-time receptionist just before Huw’s arrival, is now practice manager and is helped in her administrative duties by the owner’s other half, Steph Morgan-Jones. Huw holds a Royal College certificate in small animal surgery and has always been keen to improve the quality of professional services provided at the clinic. That opportunity arrived when Vets4Pets selected the Milton Keynes surgery, together with those in Norwich and Romford, to become the first in the 438-site group to be designated “super surgeries”. What do they mean by super surgery? In essence, it means providing increased space and equipment and more space for the clients and their pets. The company helped Huw arrange funding for the investment needed to take a practice providing a good GP service up to a higher level. Huw says he had autonomy to develop the practice in the way he wanted and to focus on any aspect of the surgery and any clinical discipline, but he saw it as an opportunity to offer a better general practice service, for which the first requirement was more breathing space. A suggestion that the workload could be split between two separate sites was briefly considered before it was realised that a much simpler solution was to erect another floor on top of the existing premises. That was eminently feasible with the single storey nestling at the back of the cavernous Pets at Home warehouse. Indeed, the clinical work continued for most of the project and only the absence of a ceiling on the operating theatre meant that for three weeks, surgical cases had to be sent to neighbouring Vets4Pets practices in Buckingham or Bletchley. When the project was completed in December 2015, the number of operating theatres doubled to two and the number of consult rooms went up from two to six. Five of those rooms lie off the waiting area on the first floor where there are separate areas for cat- and dog-owning clients. The reception desk is reached either by a small flight of stairs or a lift, which is a legal requirement for any new public building. Along with the prep area, kennels and one theatre, there is a sixth consult room on the ground floor. This is used for the occasional client or patient who is unable to climb the stairs or unwilling to travel in a lift. The extra room is also used for those clients whose pets have died or been euthanased to spend some unhurried time alone with their thoughts. When they are ready to leave, they can be escorted out of the back of the building and don’t have to carry their animal through the shop area, if they are taking it away for a home burial, Huw points out. Significant investments Since the opening, Huw has also been able to make significant investments in diagnostic technology, bringing in new digital radiography, a dental x-ray system, a human hospital-quality ultrasound unit and additional rigid endoscopy equipment. “We now have a 2.7mm diameter scope which is really versatile; it’s being used in arthroscopy, rhinoscopy and cystoscopy,” he says. “The other 4mm scope is also regularly used for laparoscopic procedures such as liver biopsies, lap spays and cryptorchid castrations. “I wouldn’t be without an endoscope now; it is so useful. I have trained in keyhole surgery and I’m helping to train one of my assistant vets, Matt Link, who has a strong interest in this area. The basic unit cost about £12,000, but when the kit is getting a lot of use, it is easy to justify that investment.” Huw accepts referrals from colleagues working in neighbouring Vets4Pets practices and has plans to increase the number of cases referred locally within the company. “Of course, we also refer cases to the big tertiary referral centres in the south-east, but whenever possible I do like to treat our own patients. Not all our clients have insurance cover and it also saves them the emotional costs of travelling a long distance with their animal when it is already sick,” he says.

Commuter belt clientele

The population of Milton Keynes has now grown to more than 260,000 and will continue to expand with a new development going up close by the surgery. But the city is very much part of the London commuter belt and a high proportion of its pet owners will
be working away during the day. “We often get calls from clients
saying, ‘Sorry, I’m running late. I will have to cancel my appointment for this evening.’ That is no longer a problem for us. From May 2017, we have been open every weekday right up to 10pm with the last appointments available at 9.30pm,” says Alison.
“We are also open all day at the weekend – on Saturday from 8 to 6
and on Sunday from 10.30 to 4.30. So we are open whenever the store is open. There are a number of clinics in the group that are open 24 hours a day. That is something that we may consider in the long-term if it looks as though it would work.” With weekday mornings starting at 8am, that is an awful lot of hours per week that need to be filled, she says. “But one of the helpful trends that
we have been seeing over recent years has been the number of veterinary surgeons, both male and female, who want to do part-time work, which gives more flexibility for the rotas. At the
moment, we have Sandra Martin and Louise Collins working part-time, while another surgeon, Delia Hewitt, who is off until October on maternity leave, will have the same flexible working opportunities when she returns,” Alison says. “This makes it much less of a headache to fill the rotas and it is better for the client, as it means that their veterinary surgeon is fresh and rested rather than having to cover an extra shift when they have already been working all day on the previous day.”