My promotion to head nurse coincided with Covid-19

Kathy Bailey, vet nurse

After 35 years as a veterinary nurse at a busy West Yorkshire surgery, I thought I’d experienced all the challenges that I was likely to face.

However, within days of being promoted to my dream job as head nurse at Shearbridge Veterinary Centre, which has practices in Bradford and Halifax, I had to prepare for new ways of working through the Covid-19 lockdown.

It’s fair to say that this has been the most challenging time of all my years as a vet nurse. Like many people, I was anxious and wondered how we would function.

At a practice meeting it was decided that four of our six-strong nursing team should self isolate at home, either because they had underlying conditions that made them vulnerable or because they had dependants to care for.

I and the remaining practice team members – two vets, two vet nurses and two receptionists (out of our 17-strong team) – were left to ensure we could still offer emergency and urgent treatment for pets, while engaging with new ways of working.

Initially, we handled emergencies via telephone consultations, which were triaged first by myself or my colleague vet nurse Lisa Mudd, who had only joined our team a month before lockdown.

Clients were asked to send us photographs of their pet’s ailments and we saw some interesting ones – and some amusing ones.

One of the cases involved Ralph (pictured below), a five-month old boxer who was non-weight-bearing on his right hind leg. The leg was extremely swollen and he had a high temperature. An x-ray revealed no fractures and he was given antibiotics; however, his leg continued to swell and eventually a large open wound appeared, along with copious amounts of clear fluid. Thankfully, after several open wound dressings it was possible to suture the wound and Ralph made a full recovery. We loved looking after him, he never complained about dressing changes and was always pleased to see us.

Ralph, the boxer dog

Mindful of the fact that we needed to observe social distancing, we put a system in place that meant clients weren’t allowed into the practice premises. In order to see pets safely, we asked clients to telephone us when they arrived. They were then asked to leave their pet at the door – for cats and small animals this meant placing them in a secure basket or travel container, and we asked that dogs’ leads be securely attached to a hook.

We collected the animal and it was then examined before our vets telephoned owners in their cars to discuss next steps and treatment options.

The RCVS’ relaxation of the rules surrounding prescribing medication meant that we were able to dispense treatments for some animals whose owners had been spoken to on the telephone by a vet.

Our new ways of working were quite complicated in some cases. This meant they were also more time consuming – vet nurses were needed to hold patients in place of their owners, reception staff had to take payments over the phone and we had to put lots of new cleaning protocols in place.

Where euthanasia was necessary, we were able to offer owners the opportunity to be with their pet by carrying out the procedure in a private space in the practice garden. Our clients really appreciated this, many said that it was beyond what they expected and that being with their pet at the end of its life meant so much to them.

Looking back over my vet nursing career, it’s hard to believe that I initially joined Shearbridge Vets as a temporary animal nurse at the age of 18. Having done so, I was soon offered a full-time job and qualified as a vet nurse in 1989.

Having worked part time while raising my family, I thought achieving the role of head vet nurse had eluded me. Now, alongside my promotion, I am studying for a certificate in feline nursing.

'My desire to look after animals has never wavered'

I’m proud of the way our small team worked so hard to help our clients and their pets in these unprecedented times.

Despite this being a stressful experience for everybody, our clients have been supportive and understanding. They knew that we were doing our best.

We’re a great team at Shearbridge Vets and we all help each other. My desire to look after animals has never wavered – I love supporting clients to help their pets.

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