One of the UK's first mobile veterinary clinics was recently awarded a Queen's Award for Innovation. Mobile Vet was launched on the Isle of Wight in 2013 by Dan Forster and his wife Kirsty, a veterinary nurse
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HAVING grown up on the Isle of Wight, I qualified from the University of Bristol in 2005 and went on to work in mixed practice in Wiltshire where I met my wife Kirsty, a veterinary nurse. We decided to move back to the Isle of Wight in 2009 and I worked in small animal practice for four years. I was soon hankering for a change though, particularly following the birth of our daughter, Lyra. I felt there must be a better way to achieve a good work-life balance while still offering a caring and professional service to island residents' pets, and Kirsty and I had worked together well in practice previously and were keen to do so again.
We discussed ideas and eventually the idea for Mobile Vet was born. While I appreciate it is not uncommon for vets these days to offer ‘mobile services’, we wanted to take things one step further – to create the first truly mobile clinic that could provide the services normally offered in a traditional clinic.
We felt the concept could work for a number of reasons, not least the particular demographics of the Isle of Wight, which has a high proportion of elderly people and a clear catchment area. We were also attracted by the lower set up costs than would be required for a building. On the other hand, we were also determined still to offer a comprehensive and high-quality standard of care – neither of us wanted to be driving round the island providing basic services and referring the majority of our work. We also wanted to offer our own out-of-hours service.
We invested a huge amount of time into researching the design of our mobile surgery, as well as sourcing a vehicle and the diagnostic equipment that it would contain. We also had to delve into the practicalities and legal issues relating to our plans, as well as all the usual aspects of business planning, finance, insurance, etc. This is where being ‘innovative’ made life more challenging. Securing finance was problematic because of the lack of benchmarks or existing ‘tried and trusted’ business models. Fortunately, we overcame the financial issues by acquiring a grant from the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership. Meeting the requirements of the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and the RCVS Practice Standards Scheme also proved time-consuming.
Eventually, everything was in place and we launched Mobile Vet in 2013. It was hard work, of course, particularly in the early days as we were doing everything ourselves, including out-of-hours, while also caring for a young child. Thanks to the support of our family, we got through it and, as we have expanded and taken on more staff, the practice is working very well.
Our vehicle is the centrepiece. Designed with operations in mind, it has a wall- mounted anaesthetic machine with oxygen and all the necessary monitoring equipment, including pulse oximetry and blood pressure monitoring equipment. Other features include secure cupboards for surgical tools, analysis machines, diagnostic equipment and consumables; an on-board pharmacy; heated kennels for recovering patients; a dental machine with integral polisher and scaler; and veterinary walk-on scales.
We use roaming internet and access to veterinary software to keep patients' records at our fingertips, and have a mobile card machine for payment.
Although we do the vast majority of our work on board the vehicle, of course not everything can be done in it, so in December 2014, we also invested in a rented static surgery at Newport, where we carry out major surgery, x-rays or hospitalise patients if necessary.
Owners seem to love the service that we provide and we believe it is often less stressful for our patients as we bring our service and expertise right to their door. The positive feedback we receive is very motivating and means that we all derive a huge amount of job satisfaction from our work. As a team we work very efficiently, and this is essential for a mobile business model. Technological problems can be frustrating – perhaps more so than for traditional practices – but we have put a lot of effort into developing robust back-up plans so we usually manage.
Several months ago we were encouraged to enter The Queen's Awards for Enterprise, a set of awards made to businesses for outstanding achievement in international trade, innovation and sustainable development. We filled out the necessary forms and promptly forgot about it until we heard that we had won an Innovation Award when Her Majesty the Queen announced the awards on April 21, her 90th birthday. We have been invited to an official reception at Buckingham Palace in July and the award will be presented by the Lord Lieutenant of the Isle of Wight later this year. After all our hard work – and that of the rest of our team – we were delighted to win. It feels like the crowning glory.
Looking ahead, we believe that mobile veterinary services will become more common, although they will vary in terms of how they operate. Some may prefer to outsource their out-of-hours work, for instance.
For us, success has enabled us to expand and we feel it shows just what can be achieved with exceptional hard work and effort, a formidable team and the support of family and friends. It also shows that small, independent practices can still make a difference in a veterinary industry that is rapidly becoming ‘corporatised’. We have plenty of hard work still ahead but also a great deal to look forward to.