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Navigating our way through uncharted waters during the COVID-19 crisis

01 May 2020, at 8:20am

Only time will tell what will happen once the pandemic subsides, but it is clear that things will look different

At the time of writing, we have just gone through our first three-week period of “lockdown” following the COVID-19 pandemic hitting the UK. It has been a stressful and worrying time for the whole country and indeed the whole planet. There are many uncertainties and anxieties about where we are heading and what a post-COVID-19 world will look like. In the UK, we believe that we are close to the peak of the initial wave of infections, although only time will tell whether this is truly the case.

At all stages, BEVA has strived to keep its members updated on developments and issued specific guidance for equine vets about the types of work that they can and can’t consider doing safely. However, since we are dealing with a completely new and unprecedented situation, there have been significant challenges in achieving these goals.

We have needed to take heed of not only official government advice, but also the rapidly evolving scientific and medical knowledge about the virus and its epidemiology, as well as the opinions of our members and those of the veterinary profession as a whole. Furthermore, the needs of related industries, including the breeding and racing industries, have to be thrown into the mix. Coupled with the rapidly changing situation, these circumstances created a perfect storm scenario where any guidance was at risk of becoming rapidly outdated and open to denigration. In today’s world where social media influences many people's lives and beliefs, the sudden flurry of posts by self-appointed experts added fuel to the fire of disquiet that existed at times.

BEVA’s goal at all times has been to balance the following: maintain animal health and welfare; work in ways that prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus; protect ourselves, our colleagues and our clients; protect the NHS; and keep the veterinary and allied businesses working and viable.

We have worked closely with other veterinary associations and have been careful to align our advice with that of the RCVS. We hope that we have managed to maintain a sensible, pragmatic and, as far as possible, evidence-based course through these troubled waters.

Support for BEVA members extended well beyond guidance about working practices. With the cancellation of many of our practical CPD courses, we worked on increasing our online educational content for those in isolation and we offered free membership for three months. We also initiated resources to support those unable to work, including the “Furloughed Club”, a virtual opportunity for those affected by coronavirus to catch up and share experiences. Advice and support for horse owners was also developed, including a series of educational video clips, entitled “Don’t give your vet the virus”, on topics such as how to take a horse’s temperature, heart and respiratory rates, as well as mini webinars on common diseases such as laminitis and colic.

At the time of writing, we do not know how long the current restrictions will continue for. Neither do we know what impact the pandemic and the lockdown will have on the equine veterinary sector. We are facing an economic recession and this will undoubtedly affect some people’s ability to fund horse ownership and cover the costs of veterinary care. Following the economic crisis of 2008/2009, there was a demonstrable downturn in some equestrian activities and equine veterinary work, with a drop in the numbers of horses undergoing high-cost procedures such as colic surgery, for example. In addition, the introduction of new ways of working during the lockdown, such as increased use of telemedicine and remote prescribing, will likely have longer-term impacts on how we work.

BEVA has produced a collection of resources, including advice and support for horse owners during the pandemic, entitled “Don’t give your vet the virus

PRESIDENT, BEVA

Tim Mair, BVSc, PhD, DEIM, DESTS, DipECEIM, AssocECVDI, FRCVS, is the current President of BEVA. He is an internal medicine and equine surgery specialist at the Bell Equine Veterinary Clinic, the Equine Veterinary Director of CVS and editor of Equine Veterinary Education (EVE).

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