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People have long memories
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  1. Adrian Nelson-Pratt

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Adrian Nelson-Pratt runs The Veterinary Business Consultancy, which offers business development support, coaching, mentoring and leadership training to the profession.

We’re a few weeks into the Covid-19 crisis and we don’t yet know the shape of the curve in the UK. At the time of writing, the NHS Nightingale Hospital London is being fitted out at the ExCel Centre by military and NHS medical planners, ready to provide 4000 coronavirus beds in two wards and with two morgues.

That we know the size of this facility from happier times spent at the London Vet Show helps demonstrate the scale of the challenge we face. It will live long in the memory.

We won’t know how some of the decisions made or things that we’ve said or done during this crisis will look with the benefit of hindsight. What will we remember about how individuals, businesses and clients acted as the crisis developed, evolved and eventually resolved?

Already I know I’ll remember how hard the RCVS and the BVA have worked to develop guidance, communicate with the profession and support all kinds of veterinary businesses facing unprecedented challenges. Only in the washup will we know how this guidance made a difference or whether it led to unintended consequences. But I’ll remember the efforts expended, the long hours put in by dedicated people and the clarity of the calls to action.

I’ll remember the pain and uncertainty in the voices of the people I coach. I’m feeling the pain in my own business, but I don’t have employees and I won’t have to furlough or let staff go. I don’t think I’ll go bust, but I’m worried about providing for my family as my clients tighten their belts.

I know I’m going to get through this owing many people a real hug or a handshake

I’ll remember the community and esprit de corps. There are some absolutely fabulous initiatives popping up, mostly online due to the social distancing measures: fireside chats, group coaching, contingency planning, yoga, fitness and CPD galore – I just wish I had shares in Zoom. I know I’m going to get through this owing many people a real hug or a handshake at some point.

But I also know that I’m going to remember some less savoury behaviours that will shape my perceptions of some people and businesses for the future and not in a good way; the cynical, point scoring and divisive behaviours that I have observed on online vet forums. We’re all in an impossible situation and no-one has the right answers, yet the way some businesses have reacted and some of the opinions proffered will live long in my memory. As my mother used to say, if you have nothing nice to say, then it’s best to say nothing at all.

How should we judge these actions in light of the current situation? Employers are having to make operational and practical decisions in extremis. The rules and recommendations are changing almost daily and few veterinary businesses, even the big ones, have the capability to implement sweeping changes of such magnitude easily. Mistakes will be made, people will be upset and problems will occur. Cut them some slack. This was unimaginable to us all three months ago. There’s no playbook here.

Individuals are frightened, shocked and anxious. However, it has felt like some have been found wanting, lashing out and losing their professional perspective. There should be no place for cynicism and indignation right now, we’re all in the same boat. Moderate your words, this is the ultimate test-and-learn scenario. Maintain a growth mindset, accepting that people are having to try things on the fly, that mistakes will be made and we must learn and move on rapidly.

When we look back at this crisis, hopefully sooner rather than later, we should remember those that took a pragmatic, professional approach, while protecting public health first and foremost. If someone made a questionable decision, consider if it made sense at the time it was made, or whether it is still irreconcilable. Be kind to those who made difficult decisions during the crisis, don’t judge them too harshly, and accept that in the circumstances, we were all just trying to do our best in the worst possible situation. ●

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