Coronavirus diaries: Eastcott Referrals

Pre-lockdown we possibly didn’t appreciate the significance of what was about to happen. Initially, we wondered if perhaps enhanced infection control and not shaking hands was going to be enough to keep us safe? The full impact of the virus only became clear when lockdown was imposed. 

Overnight all non-emergency work was cancelled and we began to wrestle with the measures which needed to be put in place and try to understand the impact this could have on our patients, their owners, our staff and the hospital. 

Like every business, we were in totally uncharted territory. What we did know was that the health, safety and wellbeing of our patients, clients, team members and community must remain our top priority.  

It was difficult at first. In the early stages, no sooner had we made a plan than the guidelines changed and we were almost back to square one. We had to be proactive. We split our teams and created new ways of serving our clients, which included the introduction of video consultations in a matter of days. 

We opened seven days a week and our 24/7 service for emergency cases continued to operate. 

We studied guidance from the RCVS, BVA and government, had frequent meetings internally, and with the wider Linnaeus group, and rapidly began to formulate new policies and practices. 

We changed things such as rotas, policies, teams and practices in days, when normally this level of change would take months. We saw so many people step up and pull together. Many people put in huge shifts working 60, 70, even 80 hours a week. We’re incredibly proud of the entire team. 

As the pandemic finally begins to recede, we are now negotiating the complex process of finding the ‘new normal’. We know there are a lot of patients who need our care and we are working hard to come up with a safe and efficient way of getting back up to full speed.  

What we have learnt from working through this crisis will be a huge help going forward. We are fortunate to be part of an incredibly supportive larger organisation in Linnaeus. 

None of our staff have been furloughed. Everyone has, regardless of their personal needs and position, been supported on full pay, which is why we are delighted to be part of Linnaeus and Mars Veterinary Health Group. 

The pandemic has also reinforced the knowledge that we have great colleagues who have done what has been necessary to keep the show on the road. 

We’ve managed to continue to work at the highest level despite the difficulties. We have learnt new ways of communicating with each other – mainly MS Teams and Yammer. We have pulled together across the Linnaeus organisation and what were relatively new groups of clinicians, nurses and senior managers have got to know each other well, which will stand us in good stead for the future. 

We’ve also learnt to cope with change, so we will be able to implement new ways of working with much greater confidence.

Looking to the future, we have great confidence because we have seen the benefits of being part of a larger organisation and the qualities of the people we work with. 

Yes, there is still a large degree of uncertainty but we have become more resilient and, therefore, better able to take events in our stride. We’re also optimistic – we have got lots of plans to expand the services we offer and real support from Linnaeus and Mars, so the next year will be different but exciting.

Peter Southerden, managing director of Eastcott Referrals

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