MANY VETERINARY practices may not survive the current crisis if the government continues to ignore the professions pleas for financial support.

This warning came from the British Veterinary Association, which is urging the government to relieve struggling practices by granting them access to business rates relief and other financial support for businesses affected in the crisis.

The organisation has written to the Treasury and devolved government departments to question why vets have so far been overlooked for financial support.

“The Government has repeatedly given thanks to vets for continuing to maintain animal health and welfare and public health and support the food supply chain in these challenging times," said BVA president Daniella Dos Santos. "But that makes it all the more disappointing that the profession’s pleas for financial support so far seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

"Veterinary practices are rightly remaining open to provide 24/7 essential care and fulfilling their duty to maintain animal health and welfare, but many are struggling to stay afloat as they grapple with dramatic reductions in turnover and scaling back their rotas to keep colleagues and clients safe,” she stressed.

The BVA has heard direct reports from hundreds of members who now fear for their future, and a recent survey released by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons indicates that a quarter of practices have seen their weekly turnover reduced by 75%, and two-thirds have seen it halved.

Parkside Veterinary Group runs three practices in Barnhill, Arbroath and Dundee and has taken significant action to streamline their operations in response to Covid-19.

“When lockdown was announced, a large number of our receptionists, nurses and vets were placed on furlough and two of our three practices were closed,” said veterinary surgeon Niamh Hunter Blair, who is one of a handful of vets now working solely out of the Dundee practice.

“In the first week of lockdown our turnover was down by 60% and even with a lot of staff on furlough, the overheads are the same, which is a real concern for our finances as we suspect it could be months before we are back to normal – whatever the new normal is.”

Ms Hunter Blair explained that Parkside Vets was an independent group and like other small practices, will not have the same comfort blanket which comes with being a corporate practice – meaning that it relied even more so on the government stepping in to announce financial relief.

Director Stuart Ashworth added: "Our Farm and Equine departments have also been feeling the strain with a similarly reduced level of staff still covering the urgent and emergency cases in what, traditionally, is the busiest time of the year. The balance of maintaining animal health and welfare while adhering to government guidelines reducing the risks to staff and clients has been challenging."

With all routine appointments cancelled, day to day working has been much more intensive, as all cases are serious in nature and with strict social distancing being followed, clients have had to remain out of the practice, which has led to increased consultation times and more pressure on staffing schedules.

“The mental aspect of our work has become increasingly challenging as we are trying our best to fit everyone in and reassure worried clients," Ms Hunter Blair continued. "We are now having to bring vets back from furlough to meet demand for our services which will present further financial challenges to the business.”