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“One thing that will continue to exert its influence on our profession in 2020 is corporate veterinary groups”

28 February 2020, at 9:00am

Although 2020 has just begun, as I write it is still pre-Christmas, that period which brings much joy and happiness to receivers of Christmas presents (mainly children and young people) and can be a cause of some degree of stress and extra work in advance planning to others (parents and employers, for example). The foothills of this endeavour are usually tackled by me during October when in our practice, and in veterinary offices and staff rooms up and down the land, the first rumblings and mutterings can be heard concerning the Christmas rota. There then follows a poker game-like series of negotiations and bargaining.

The best hand in this high-stake game is held by whoever was working any of the main holiday days the year before. The lowest hand is held by anyone not having had their name down for a spot of yuletide rota joy for a year or so. I do the rota and felt almost a sense of relief as I knew it was my turn. Then the negotiations took an unexpected turn as various staff members said they thought I was on call last Christmas day. The nurse on with me even recounted the case of the dog that fell off the cliff during its traditional post-prandial Christmas day walk. I remembered the case and could picture the X-rays we took like it was yesterday, but as to coming in from the big day to deal with it, my mind was blank. Some post-traumatic psychological trick had erased the entire day from my mind. To this day I cannot remember being on call for Christmas but enough people have verified this now that I had no choice but to agree, and so found my hand had gone from one pair to a royal flush (or whatever the poker term would be – I have only played poker twice: first as a student against someone who had a PhD in maths and game theory from Cambridge; that didn’t end well but luckily we were in a campsite in Spain playing for pasta. My second game, more recently, saw me win handsomely for real money against some of my closest friends. Neither experience has made me want to revisit the game any time soon).

So, the Christmas rota was the first of the obstacles to overcome, then the inevitable Christmas shopping which can now thankfully be done from an armchair at home. Wind forward and we come to 2020 when you are reading this, looking out from just over the mountain top of Christmas achieved and put to bed for another 11 months, and gazing at the vast sunlit uplands of a fresh new year.

One thing that will continue to exert its influence on our profession in 2020 is corporate veterinary groups. I thought it would make a change to write about the positive aspects that this has had. I was prompted to reflect on this after seeing a joke on a veterinary humour Facebook page. It was a photo of the scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, the “What have the Romans ever done for us” one. In their case it was “...apart from funding retirements, high rental payments, quality improvement committees, new grad schemes… flexible working, business support and building a new vet school to tackle staff shortages... What have the corporates ever done for us?”

Let’s look at the new vet school: Keele and Harper Adams are creating a new vet school and CVS are building and running much of the clinical provision. This is a huge investment and will do something to help the chronic staff shortage we have. “Where are all the vets?” is a common question asked by employers the world over. There may be questions about how much influence a commercial company should have over training new vets, but currently that is a smaller concern than the sheer lack of them.

Another recent announcement is that CVS will top up maternity pay. Currently the government funds 90 percent of pay for six weeks and then it is statutory pay for 33 weeks. CVS will increase this to 100 percent pay for 10 weeks and 50 percent for 10 weeks. That is quite a commitment to make for our largely female workforce.

What no one seems to have asked is what about paternity pay? Can CVS discriminate against men by only increasing this benefit for women and not paternity pay for men?

Well, that’s a brief look at some of the good things to come from the corporate sector in 2019. How much people enjoy working for them is a question for another day. I do feel a bit like the Roman legionaries in Life of Brian who ransack a whole house; the last one out reports back to the centurion. “Did you find anything?” he is asked, and replies: “Yes sir, we found this spoon.” Happy New Year.