It’s not business as usual for vets — despite what the public’s perception might be, Oamaru vet Simon Laming says.

Mr Laming, of Veterinary Centre Ltd, which has clinics throughout the region, expressed concerns about the services the business should continue to offer, and the public perception of continuing to operate as an essential service.

A visit from police recently followed a complaint from a member of the public who had seen two people in one of the Veterinary Centre’s trucks.

What had been difficult to establish was exactly what services should be offered as guidelines were not very specific, Mr Laming said.

He cited the likes of administering teat sealant to dairy heifers, a procedure where usually five staff would stand shoulder to shoulder at a purpose-built trailer all day.

Teat sealing had resulted in dramatic reductions in herd cell counts and heifer mastitis and had improved animal welfare and milk quality. Administering such treatments also increased the Covid-19 risk to staff.

There were now situations where graziers were uncomfortable with vets coming on to the farm, but the animal owners wanted the stock treated and he could understand both viewpoints, Mr Laming said.

It would be “awful” to see herds take a backward step in milk quality after gains made through such practices being introduced.

There was definitely a risk in providing an essential service. While attempting to mitigate that risk as much as possible, there were situations where there were no specific guidelines.

There were some occasions where one vet could not manage on their own and times when vets had to work closely.

Vets at Veterinary Centre were rostered in teams and often some of the firm’s young vets lived in the same bubble.

Some online consulting was working “remarkably well” but dairy, and sheep and beef work was different, he said.

New Zealand Veterinary Association chief veterinary officer Helen Beattie, of Dunedin, said the NZVA was providing guidance so vets could use their discretion to assess the risks and keep staff safe.

In the first week of the lockdown, vets had only looked to treat animals in an emergency situation or where there was a genuine risk to animal welfare.

“We are also providing essential services where not providing care will have poor long-term animal welfare implications,” Dr Beattie said.

“The message we want to reiterate is for people to call ahead and allow veterinarians to first discuss your situation with you over the phone.

“If it is a genuine emergency then the veterinarian will arrange to see you and ensure best-practice handling methods that will safeguard your safety and their own while attending to the urgent needs of your pet.”

The message from the Ministry for Primary Industries was the expectation of reduced services provision during a Level 4 lockdown.

The lockdown was primarily a health response but there was also the issue of animal welfare and that was where “the balance gets really tricky”.

It was a balance of keeping people safe and animal welfare implications and she understood Mr Laming’s concerns.

There were both regional and clinic differences in how people operated and all of those things needed to be considered in risk assessments, she said.

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