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Don’t waste this crisis
  1. Georgina Mills

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The UK is entering a new phase of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Death rates and new cases are falling, and lockdown measures have begun to ease, so the economy can now start to recover. Last week, the government announced that the UK had moved to Covid-19 alert level three – the virus is considered to be ‘in general circulation’ but not rising.

With shops opening and the hospitality sector gearing up to open next month, it feels like we are finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

But just how long is the tunnel?

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which assesses economic progress and world trade, says the crisis will cast a long shadow over the world, triggering the ‘most severe recession in nearly a century’. The UK’s economy is likely to fall by 11.5 per cent in 2020, a figure higher than other European countries, and if there is a second peak, the economy will fall further.

We know from surveys carried out by the RCVS that practice turnover has taken a hit. Following the announcement of lockdown and the introduction of social distancing measures, April’s survey found almost a quarter of practices reporting falls in their turnover of more than 75 per cent.

Data from the latest survey in May indicate that as practices started to provide a more normal range of services, the number reporting this level of turnover loss had fallen to just 6 per cent. Preliminary results from the latest RCVS survey shows practices are starting to increase case loads, their turnover is improving and fewer staff are having to self isolate.

But as we move to a new normal, albeit with social distancing measures still in place, what is in store for practices and their recovery? Could this be an opportunity?

Some sector observers think so (see pp 624-625). They say evolving operations to cater for a changed customer demand and introducing new ways of working will be the key to future survival.

The profession needs to become more proactive

Richard Casey, president of the Veterinary Management Group (VMG), says the profession now needs to become more proactive and start planning for the next 12 months.

The VMG published a reemergence manual for the profession last month, which looked at the short-, medium- and long-term action that businesses can take. Instead of just concentrating on profit, it advised that practices use an approach that looks out for people too (the two being interrelated).

This could take the form of extended practice opening hours to allow for more flexible working, with staff working longer but fewer days so that the same volume of work can be carried out. This could also have the advantage of offering appointment times that may be more convenient for customers.

A quick fix, such as a fee review, may seem to make sense now, but in the long term will it be sustainable if you risk losing your clients’ loyalty? Instead, perhaps increasing the efficiency of online triaging and teleconsults – and charging properly for telemedicine work – would help maintain the right degree of revenue to stay buoyant.

Whatever your approach, the emerging advice is that involving others in these decisions will bring the best results. Don’t make assumptions about what your staff want, widen the discussion with the team, welcome ideas and bring staff along with you as changes take place.

And, of course, it makes good business sense to ask your customers too, either directly in the consult room, on social media or through surveys.

In her latest Covid-19 webinar, BVA president Daniella Dos Santos drove home these messages of inclusion but also stressed the importance of transparency. Being honest about the state of the business, the turnover and the ways of working will make the next year a lot more palatable and avoid any shocks.

There may be tough times ahead, but with long-term solutions and some future-proofing planning now, we may reach the end of the tunnel that little bit sooner.

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