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Decisions should be made case by case
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By Josh Loeb

The scope of work that small animal vets may undertake while the UK remains in lockdown has been widened to cover tasks that go beyond merely providing urgent and emergency care.

However, the BVA has stressed that in-person work should only go ahead if there is ‘a real and not nominal’ animal welfare justification.

This means that decisions on vaccination and neutering should be taken on a case-by-case basis. Practices should avoid adopting ‘blanket’ policies on providing such services, the association says.

The BVA released its updated guidance last week in anticipation of an extension of the lockdown measures.

When first announced by the government on 23 March, the restrictions covered the three-week period to 13 April. However, expecting that there would be no let up to the curbs on daily life, the BVA issued a joint statement with the RCVS shortly before Easter in which it stated that it needed to ‘address animal health and welfare issues that may arise over this prolonged period [of lockdown], and the need to ensure the longer term viability of the veterinary sector to continue to provide care for animals’.

Both the association and the college stressed: ‘This does not, however, mean that we are returning to business as usual.’

On 12 April, in the fourth of her now weekly webinars, BVA president Daniella Dos Santos emphasised that vets should use their professional judgement to make decisions on vaccination and neutering. The British Small Animal Veterinary Association is currently developing tools to enable an evidence-based approach to such decision making.

‘Given the likely longer-term restrictions that are going to be in place, we are also suggesting that when vets use their clinical judgement, they consider cases in two-month rolling cycles,’ Dos Santos said. ‘Something that will not benefit animal welfare now may benefit it in four months and so should be approached differently at that stage.

‘A single male puppy in a household does not need to be neutered in the current climate, but in a house with two kittens of the opposite sex, neutering would have a welfare benefit. This all comes down to clinical judgement.’

The movement away from urgent and emergency work only being permitted is appropriate given the length of time this pandemic

She added: ‘The movement away from urgent and emergency work only being permitted is appropriate given the length of time this pandemic and its restrictions will be going on for.’

The updated guidance is based on six broad principles:

1. Slowing the spread of Covid-19 remains the top priority for everyone. Public health, including the safety of veterinary team members and clients, remains paramount.

2. There is a reputational risk for the profession if it is not seen to be doing everything it can to play its part in the control of Covid-19.

3. If work can be done remotely, it should be.

4. In-person work should only go ahead if there is a real, and not nominal, animal welfare justification (either immediate or within the next two months).

5. If in-person work does go ahead, it should be done practising social distancing and good biosecurity.

6. All work should be carried out with prudent use of resources such as personal protective equipment and oxygen.

The guidance in its entirety can be found at https://bit.ly/3a9z5tR

In Sunday’s webinar, Dos Santos also apologised for what she said had been initial unclear language from the BVA that some had interpreted as an instruction to vets to carry out vaccination and neutering in all cases.

‘The premise that vaccination and neutering can be carried out is a sound one, but we acknowledge that language used has not been clear enough and can be interpreted as “must be carried out”,’ she said. ‘This was never our intention. Our intention was to allow the veterinary surgeon to exert clinical judgement and vaccinate where they felt appropriate.’

In addition to its position on vaccination and neutering, the BVA is recommending that microchipping can now be undertaken if the animal is already in the practice for an essential service.

Flea and worm treatments should be dispensed in accordance with local disease risks and public health concerns, while procedures that require sedation or anaesthesia should only be carried out where there is either an immediate welfare justification or one that would emerge within the next two months. ●

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