By Ben Cornwell 

Hastings resident Rosie Brocklehurst contacted the Silverhill Surgery of Sussex Coast Vets (SCV) last month to book an appointment for her cat Pepper, to receive his annual booster jab. In the past, appointments like this could often be arranged for the following day. She was told that, as a result of current staff shortages, the earliest time slot available would be 3rd December.

SCV is the biggest veterinary practice in the local area, with five surgeries across St Leonards and Bexhill. But the combination of Brexit and Covid has led to the number of vets employed across their sites dropping from 12 to two, the result of mostly EU practitioners returning to continental Europe. SCV’s Greenleaves and Ashbrook surgeries have closed whilst their Silverhill and London Road surgeries are staying open for nurse consultations only. The two remaining qualified vets are currently practising at the Bexhill surgery in De La Warr Road. 

Vet4Pets at Sedlescombe Road North have reduced staff numbers (five vets down to three), and confirm that they have experienced an increased workload. They put it down largely to “ the rise in the number of puppies and kittens” rather than practitioner shortages.

The same story is playing out across the country. UK pet emergency service Vets Now and daytime practices within the My Family Vets network have both urged pet owners to use video consultation services in non-emergency situations where possible and to avoid making routine appointments they can’t keep.

Brexit and Covid combined

Brexit is, without doubt, a major factor. In recent years, more than half the number of vets registering in the UK came from other EU countries, plugging the shortfall caused by a lack of UK-trained vets. The British Veterinary Association was warning for some time that there could be potential staff shortages as a consequence of stopping the free movement of labour. Last year, on average, 60 EU vets registered every month; that number has since fallen to fewer than 20. 

Rosie Brocklehurst’s cat, Pepper

But Covid lockdowns and restrictions have brought at the same time a steep rise in demand. More than 3.2 million UK households are calculated to have acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic. Vet practices across the country are raining cats and dogs.

Emergency vet Dr Laura Playforth, professional standards director at Vets Now, said: “Unfortunately, there is a global shortage of suitably qualified vets and vet nurses and almost every veterinary business in the UK, Europe and the US is having problems finding good staff. This isn’t a new issue but the boom in pet ownership has accentuated it more.

“Many people don’t realise just how much stress this increased workload has put on vet practices,” she added. 

Back in Hastings SCV surgeries are working hard to fit everybody in. But, with the shortages of staff causing an increased workload, understandably there will be times where other cases may take priority. In Rosie’s case, she discovered a lesion near her cat’s neck and reported it to SCV, who then helped her schedule an appointment for a few weeks earlier.

Rosie nevertheless feels that the local vet scene is changing: 

“One rarely gets to see the same vet and so they don’t get to know the animal, and my experience of one vet in St Leonards (not SCV) was that they did not like cats.
All the while, costs are going up.”

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