Roundhouse Vet Hospital - Our Lockdown Story


Mike Jackson, Managing Partner of Scotland’s largest Independent Small Animal Practice  and a member of the BVHA Officers' Team, outlines the Pets’n’Vets Family’s COVID-19 Strategy. 

The Roundhouse Veterinary Hospital - Our Lockdown Story so far…

Things are all change at the Roundhouse Vet Hospital where, in the space of just a few weeks, a whole raft of new protocols have come into place.

Physically, the practice is working back-to-front with emergency admits coming via a double gate system at the back of the carpark. Brand new printed instructional banners adorn our Carpark featuring a COVID-19 version of our logo.

Clients wait in their vehicles immersed in telephone and video consultations before dropping-off or collecting their pets via a clever system which safely maintains the government’s two-meter distancing rules. An enormous lit and heated outdoor consulting room has materialised from nothing whilst the BVHA-Award-Winning waiting room stands empty.

Inside, a greatly slimmed down team is working hard, multitasking with new learned skills; vets take payments whilst receptionists work as runners and RVNs cover administrative and nursing duties.

Changes extend to staff rotas and practice opening hours – most staff are working on a novel 4-days-on-4-days-off shift pattern. In addition, a new night shift has sprung up because with just two days’ notice, the Roundhouse ‘went’ 24 hours.

Despite these enormous adjustments the mood in the practice is buoyant, and messages of colleague support pop-up on the practice’s in-house Communications App with a regular and satisfying ‘ping’. The ‘Dunkirk spirit’ is alive and kicking in Glasgow.

There is no doubt that the disruption of COVID-19 and subsequent Lockdown poses a brand-new level of challenge to Veterinary Practice

What follows are some of the steps that we have taken in response to the situation so far, I hope that these may be useful for other Hospital practices.  

We have stayed on top of Guidance

We have endeavoured to make decisions as early as possible, in order to do that we have paid dogged attention to government, RCVS and BVA communications – trying where possible to forecast the advice whenever we can. 

We have communicated effectively and honestly with our team

We have been using an off-the-shelf Team Communications App for some years now - our staff use it constantly and most already had it on their own phones or devices – we were able to let our staff know in honest and uncertain terms what was happening and what would need to be done, and used regular messages and video announcements to reassure them.

In addition, we were able to quickly seek consultation with our team, glean ideas and publish new protocols - all at incredible speed.

Further to this, we have been able to utilise the Communication App to keep in touch with all members of staff (those at work and at home) in a bid to make sure that all members of the team feel involved and not isolated – maintaining good mental health across the team must be a priority.  

We pushed out our Video Consultation App

We were lucky here; we had been involved in the beta testing of PetsApp, a Veterinary Specific Client Communication Platform, for over a year – we were about ready to go when Coronavirus became large on the horizon and accelerated our plans to be ready.

PetsApp has been a huge benefit to us – it offers another form of communications via text chat, RCVS-adherent Video Consultations and crucially, payment over the App with daily accounting.

This has allowed us to continue with non-emergency advice consults, whilst decreasing footfall to the practice and home-working for some members of the team.

We have furloughed staff

During these very difficult times there is no doubt that all sectors will suffer – veterinary practices will struggle too, tailoring our workforce to the work available is crucial in maintaining cash flow. 

The government’s pledge is to pay 80% of salaries up to a maximum of £2500 which works reasonably well for lay staff and some nurses – the figures get a little more difficult with higher salaried staff – vets and more experienced nurses particularly.

We found that as we had been upfront and honest with our team from the start, they had realistic expectations and were positive about the decisions made. We are looking forward to having them back.

We monetised veterinary advice - a crucial part of our strategy

Monetising advice is something that veterinary practices have historically felt really squeamish about – our practice was no different.

These extraordinary times do rather focus the mind and we have, with the help of PetsApp, been charging for video consults at full, ‘in-person’ consultation charges. In addition, we are asking our receptionists to ‘shield’ (to use a COVID term) our vets from our telephone clients and have implemented a £15 telephone consultation charge.

Again, through honest communication, our team have adapted to this and our clients seem to have accepted the change too. To date we have only had one client complain about a charge for telephone advice. 

We have taken bold steps, consolidating resources

Making big decisions is usually very difficult, making them under pressure of a Pandemic has seemed a little easier!

Prior to lockdown, we had two or three scenarios and responses planned and ready to go. We were confident to ‘push the button’ when we felt we understood what government restrictions would be. The particular ‘button’ we pushed was to close all six of our branch practices and pull resources to our Hospital, the Roundhouse. 

We brought equipment, stock and personnel to the Hospital, using a removals company to speed up the process. All items of equipment and stock were logged and labelled by the branch team to help us return them quickly when the situation abates.  

Branch staff members were quickly trained on working practises in the Hospital and equipment that differed from their usual. 

Thankfully, we had upgraded to a newer, cloud-based version of our PMS a little while ago and our telephone system is VOIP (internet based) – both has helped us to field all clients via our central hub.

We have communicated clearly with our clients via Social Media

We have been working really hard on Social so that we keep our clients up to speed with our plans and developments. Being the first and clearest to announce RCVS and BVA guidelines, Lockdown ideas and tips and positive practice stories to our Facebook likers has made our page a bit of a hub. It has been a great way to champion our team, our profession and to open up new services when able.  

We altered staff patterns and working positions

We consulted with our team and a 24/7 working pattern seemed to make sense to the team and to us. Prior to Lockdown our Hospital had been staffed with Vets, Nurses, Vet Techs and Receptionists from 8am until 10pm, then a with a Nurse team overnight to look after inpatients – we would send our clients to an OOH provider.

Working on a 4-on-4-off rota pattern and stretching our numbers over 24 hours has allowed us create two distinct teams, each with three isolated shift units – the thinking being that smaller isolated teams should be safer.

In addition, 24-hour working has allowed us to open up a new revenue stream, increase the OOH provision in the city, which seemed vulnerable at just two and cut down on journeys for clients with sick pets.

Many questions remain and challenges are developing all the time – we have, for instance, just heard that our Overnight Medication Courier Service has ‘gone down with Coronavirus’ – and we have already started work on a brand-new system to cope.

The Positives

As well as challenges there have been many positives to come out of the situation.

The emergence of digital communications has been a real positive. Lower effort communications such as Text chats have brought cases to our attention earlier in the disease process which has definitely saved lives. The integration of Video consulting has also been a real plus - providing an excellent way to assess some cases with lower stress for the pets involved, we would definitely say that Video consults are here to stay.

Connected to that is a definite move towards respect for and understanding of the value of Veterinary Advice by clients and the team. Charging for remote-advice has become the new ‘norm’ for our staff with very few grumbles from clients - which must be a positive in the long-term health of our Hospital and for the Profession too.

In addition to all of that, we have felt an outpouring of gratitude from our clients via social media and over the phone - it’s been really lovely!