I wasn’t around at team selection, but I imagine it was a bit like when football teams were chosen at school - Julian Norton

It would be an understatement to say that this has been an interesting week. Following the announcement by the Government last week, everyone’s life is very different.

The door to Julian Norton's surgery is shut with routine procedures cancelled.

Advice from our professional bodies has been read and digested and various meetings have been called. A profession which simply cannot work from home has vigorously embraced Skype and Facetime.

I pondered my recent weekend on call, the one that came just before the apocalyptically named ‘LOCKDOWN’ was announced. As is always the case in spring, it was busy. A dog with a broken leg, sustained when it failed to clear a cattle grid, could not be treated over the phone, or from home.

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The four sheep to lamb and the alpaca with a prolapse all required hands-on attention and so too did a pyrexic dog with prostatitis, which needed intravenous antibiotics throughout Saturday evening and most of Sunday. So, it is fortunate that vets are still allowed to continue our work, at least to some extent. After lengthy discussion, a plan was hatched.

A plan of sorts, but one which attempted to balance the requirement to provide care for patients in need, protect the public and protect ourselves, or at least minimise our risks. Over the subsequent days, it was fascinating to see how these, sometimes conflicting, priorities would play out. The front door was shut and clients had to wait outside; routine procedures were cancelled. But then, what constitutes a routine procedure?

The puppy, for instance, who has started his vaccination course and who would be homebound for an unspecified period of time if he didn’t receive his second injection – surely it would be better to finish the course? But did it count as routine? Best veterinary practise had to be modified – could we really achieve an adequate diagnosis by a phone call or a photo on the email?

In the case of Babs the bald guinea pig, I was happy to make a sound judgement following both these things. An avoided visit to the clinic is another exercise in social distancing. We are told to minimise human-to-human contact “to stop the spread of this invisible threat”.

In reality, the bigger risk is to our clients rather than from them. Like other people working directly with the public, vets are certain to be at an increased risk of exposure. And it’s almost impossible to keep our distance. I couldn’t ask each farmer I’d seen over the weekend to “stand a broom-length away” otherwise the sheep would have run off, never to be lambed!

Part of our plan at work has been to split into two teams, working separately and independently of one another. Should one of us succumb, the other team can continue to work in health and harmony, avoiding the need to close down the whole practice.

I am in team B, which is smaller but arguably more perfectly formed. I wasn’t around at team selection, but I imagine it was a bit like when football teams were chosen at school. Who would be the last to get picked?

I returned to base to find the team selection had been completed. There was just one vet’s car in the practice – belonging to my teammate. I presumed the two of us were starting the first shift. But no! On the day of inception of our ‘team play’ policy, ALL of the A team had been dispatched within five minutes of each other.

Two were doing a caesarean on a cow and the third was repairing a prolapsed ewe! So much for working from home!

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James Mitchinson