Representation and Education

BCVA COVID-19 latest guidance for farm vets

As the UK government increases its restrictive measures on society in an attempt to slow the spread of Covid-19, BCVA have produced the following guidance for farm vets. This covers what we believe the restrictions mean for you, as well as how you might integrate these changes into your business practices. As a key tenet to this, it is important to remember that your health and safety, as well as that of your clients is paramount:

 

Stay at Home Policy

The Prime Minister yesterday introduced a number of restrictions to movement as can be found at gov.uk/coronavirus. These allow for people to leave their houses/properties for a limited number of reasons – primarily to collect food, for health reasons or for essential work.

It is our belief that the production of safe food, as well as protecting animal health and welfare is essential. This is reflected in the recently-released key workers list for the benefit of childcare, which we believe to be a proxy for a critical business list. As such, much of our work may be deemed essential. We are working to try and ensure that farm veterinary practices are included in a Critical Business list, should one be produced, so that our key part in maintaining a healthy food chain can continue.

 

Working Principles

The aim of the new restrictions, as well as the general policy of social distancing, is to reduce the number of interactions between people not living in the same house, and therefore the spread of the virus. As such, we would encourage our members (and in fact all farm practices) to implement the following changes:

  • Veterinary practices to operate on a similar standard to out of hours
  • No unnecessary staff are to be routinely present within the practice
  • No clients to enter the premises
  • Medicine dispenses to be left in a lockable container outside the practice for collection
  • Regular cleaning/disinfection of surfaces regularly touched, such as the medicine collection container
  • Vets to be based primarily at home; only visiting the practice to collect medicines, sterilise equipment, package samples for delivery to laboratories and dispense medicines
  • All visits to be triaged using a risk-based approach
  • Clients should be discouraged from bringing their animals to the practice premises for examination. If it is deemed necessary, then farmers should not be permitted to accompany their animal into the building.

 

Triage

When considering whether a visit should be carried out or not, the following considerations should be used:

  • Is the call necessary? Is there a threat to food security or animal welfare if postponed or not carried out?
  • Can a diagnosis be made remotely? By using farmer descriptions, video calling facilities (such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Facetime) can you provide a suitable presumptive diagnosis and medicine dispense that does not immediately endanger welfare or food safety in the short-term?
  • Are there alternatives that can be used that, whilst they may not be best practice, may allow an appropriate end-point without the need for a visit? For example, increased sampling and data analysis in a mastitis outbreak together with a video of the environment, or the use of blanket synchronisation protocols to avoid seeing non-cycling cows in the short term?
  • It is considered appropriate that all health planning and medicine reviews are undertaken remotely, using technology to assist where appropriate.

It is not our place to provide a prescriptive list of what is or is not necessary. That decision will come down to the professional judgement and risk-based analysis of an individual vet. The assessment must balance the impact on food safety and animal welfare with the risk of spread on Covid-19 and therefore consequent pressure on the NHS.

Once the decision has been made to deem a visit necessary, a risk assessment should be performed to ensure this can be carried out safely without increasing the risk of spread of Covid-19.

 

Risk Assessment

Before leaving for a visit, and then upon arrival a risk assessment should be carried out to ensure the visit can be carried out without threatening the health and safety of both the vet and the farmer or their family.

Initially, this should involve a phone call to request, where possible, only a single member of farm staff be present. The current health status and vulnerability of the client should be assessed. To carry out the visit safely, it should be feasible to maintain a minimum 2 metre (about the length of a cow!) distance between yourself and the farmer. If this is not the case, there is a jeopardy placed on your safety which may be considered unnecessary, or worthy of delay until that distance can be maintained.

Individual farmer status and available farm facilities may very much affect this decision. There may be clients who are in a vulnerable category group, or those with poor handling facilities that cannot ensure a safe distance of 2 metres, where alternative arrangements may need to be considered. If there is an emergency, and the call is deemed necessary, but the farmer is self-isolating or sick, then provisions could be made for two members of the practice to attend.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and biosecurity should be part of the vet’s daily mindset. However, it is worth emphasising the importance of this when facing a disease outbreak. Consider the farmer who puts a cow in a crush for examination just prior to your arrival before giving you distance but during that time has coughed on the side of the crush. Pay particular attention to the use of PPE and biosecurity to keep yourselves and your clients safe.

 

TB Testing

It is the current view of APHA that TB testing continues as per normal, as the consequences of delaying disease control measures of a notifiable and zoonotic diseases are still evident following the 2001 Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak. However, it is worth recognising that maintaining a 2-metre distance whilst testing may require changes to the way the handling is carried out. Consider this before starting and perhaps allow more time to accommodate, and consider that part tests may be completely necessary in these circumstances.

Equally, there are some classes of stock and certain handling systems where maintaining that distance is impossible. Our advice, and that of APHA is to delay that part of the test to allow alternative arrangements to be made. APHA and BCVA will support a vet who chooses to abandon a test due to their safety being compromised by an inability to maintain a 2-metre distance. BCVA have also clarified with APHA that farmers will receive an amnesty on financial penalties, if the test has to be postponed, rearranged or abandoned directly due to COVID-19.

“Until further advised, keepers will not be referred to the relevant payment agency for overdue tests, if they or the OV advise APHA that the testing cannot be carried out during the testing window, due to COVID-19 reasons”. It is very much within the remit of the individual vet to assess the current risks on that farm and to make a decision as to the safety of that test.

Current advice from APHA can be found by clicking on the COVID-19 banner on the homepage of the TB hub website. We are working directly with APHA to contribute directly to Q and A’s on the TB hub, to help members keep relevant and up to date. 

 

Medicine Supply Chain

Currently medicine supply looks to be maintained, and with the supply of veterinary medicines recognised in the recently released Key Workers list, we see no reason for this to change. We will endeavour to inform you should this change. Some thought should be given to the use of disposable PPE equipment, as this may be required by the NHS as the situation becomes more critical. Washable PPE may be a more appropriate choice in these unprecedented circumstances.

 

Laboratory Testing

It is our understanding that the majority of labs will be reducing the routine testing in favour of disease outbreak testing but will endeavour to offer as best a service as possible. We would recommend contacting your laboratory provider prior to sending any samples. This could prove to be especially useful to supplement a diagnostic service, combined with farm vets spending restricted time on farm.

 

Financial Implications

BCVA are working hard to ensure that farm veterinary practices are on a Critical Business list, to ensure a degree of business security over the coming months. Employees who are high risk, or with children, are reminded that applying for furlough is an option that could be available. The government will then pay your employer 80% of your salary up to £2,500 per month. Your employer may choose, and where financially feasible we would encourage consideration of this, to top this up.

Providing support for self-employment or farm animal locum vets is currently being considered in parliament, and there is hope that similar measures will be put in place. The suggested amendment is to provide government support of 80% of monthly net earnings averaged over the last 3 years, or a maximum of £2,917 per month.

As ever, this is a situation which is changing daily and we will endeavour to keep our members as up to date as possible, whilst maintaining a factual response in these uncertain times. We expect to issue further statements as and when further information becomes available. Equally, any advice we have given needs to be considered in the light of any output from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, of which we are all members.

24th March 2020 - 15:05

 

 


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