The importance of the team should be paramount...

01 March 2016, at 12:00am

The Mercury Column, in which a guest columnist takes the temperature of the profession - and the world around.

THE WORLD IS CLEARLY CHANGING! On the world stage, things are developing in ways which cause concern to those of us who prefer the quieter waters of the middle stream, leaving extreme sports and extreme politics to others with more need for a challenge than I can demonstrate. 

Just five years ago, who would have thought that a Mediterranean cruise would bring you within touching distance of tens of thousands of people fleeing their own countries or that countless millions of American voters could vote to put into the White House a candidate who, on the face of it, could set back the causes of racial and gender equality by light years?

The reality is that our world is being driven by self-interest; no one treks across Europe in search of a better life without a measure of desperation, particularly when it is obvious that Europe is not the hospitable haven they might have imagined and that at every border the message is clear: whatever the politicians say, we don’t really want you here.

The message is the same in the heartland of the US, voters are rallying around protectionist rhetoric and, even though disinformation and racial intolerance are ill-placed to remedy the home-grown economic challenges that have built up over decades, people so want to find a leader.

In Europe, the drive away from macro-government towards localisation and micro-government seems unstoppable and the decision to devolve power from the centre to the regions has been as urgently adopted here at home as anywhere else. One pities the doctors who, despite having received only as much business training as the veterinary profession, now find themselves responsible for the day-to-day running of the NHS. That seems to make as much sense as local vets running DEFRA although, come to think of it...

Perhaps the issue here is one of responsibility. Throughout our childhood, each one of us was schooled in the understanding that one should own up to wrong-doing and that it was our individual duty to take responsibility for ourselves and our own actions.

Somewhere along the way we seem to have lost sight of that in a collective sense. Ours seems to have become something of a blame-culture with countless parents devolving responsibility for their children’s education to the teachers and the schools, or to the fast food manufacturers for maintaining our healthy diet.

We seem to have a natural, and uncanny, ability to compartmentalise information according to its palatability; we have, collectively, made smokers into pariahs yet, even though we know the dangers of alcohol and of sugar, these seem only to represent a problem for somebody else.

In my own case, I still see a display of chocolate bars as being a harmless pastiche of comparatively innocent pleasure and my nightly consumption of half a bottle of red wine is pretty normal, isn’t it?

Of course, we’ve seized on EBM which makes everything all right as we can deftly slide the responsibility for more or less any decision onto whomever published a bit of research we particularly favour.

Of course, EBM is much more robust than that, if used properly, but we fool ourselves if we think it’s a lasting solution – the concept may well be lasting but the evidence keeps changing and, with the best will in the world, consumers find it hard to accord trust to someone who, in their eyes, blows with the wind.

Blame culture

Sadly, a blame-led culture will always throw up a climate where people actively seek someone else to blame and, to some extent, this has spawned a dubious industry where certain individuals make a living out of seeking damages for events varying from motor accidents or wrongful dismissal but, in the main, most people act sensibly, if not responsibly.

There is something about herd activity that leads the most sensible among us into areas where otherwise we might not have ventured, and crowd behaviour, such as speeding at 90mph in the outside lane of the motorway, often encourages similar behaviour in otherwise sensible people.

Human psychology is immensely complex and consumer behavioural patterns may often reflect cause and effect from the least likely places.

A recent study by Independent Vet Care into the way we use veterinary nurses has highlighted the ambitions 

and frustrations of a large group of veterinary nurses with the altogether not unexpected revelation that “there are more reasons to leave the profession than to stay; with money, recognition, hours and expectations being the main reasons” why at least one respondent deliberated long and hard about leaving her chosen profession.

The BVA has recognised the need to champion the training, skills and work that produce excellent VNs but the missing piece of the puzzle seems to me to be the omission of the vital recognition that nurses are, in the main, better communicators and are frequently more in tune with and able to talk persuasively with clients.

If nurses are not, currently, being used to their full potential, that is a worrying trend both for the day-to-day activities within the practice but for the relationship that exists between practices and both existing and potential clients.

If, as it appears, these VNs do not enjoy the respect of vets within their practices then this would also flag up a woeful lack of recognition of the way in which our clients see the practices they choose to support.

In the end, while they may be highly dependent on the advice provided by the vets, all too often it will be the nurses who give them the confidence, and often the skills, to put that advice into practice.

We should not underestimate the value that nurses can contribute to the development of brand equity in our practices and, in that sentence, I may have encapsulated the problem; no amount of veterinary skill will shape the practice development without recognition, by the public, of the cohesion and competence of the team.

As most of us know, veterinary heroism is fine on television but, in real life, the importance of the team is paramount. If we fail to recognise the value of those team members and allow them to feel patronised and under-valued, that may well be crowd behaviour at its most damaging.