Access to emergency health treatment is to be significantly increased after the Government announced that NHS Trusts will now be able to procure services from local veterinary clinics. In order to reduce the burden on overstretched A&E departments, anyone requiring emergency treatment will now be referred to their nearest vet in what the Government says is ‘a sensible and logical use of existing resources’.
‘It makes complete sense that when a vet is not treating Fido or Tiddles for ticks, they open their doors to patients who may have had a stroke, major trauma injury or a saucepan stuck on their head,’ said Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. ‘The ‘Veterinary Services Pathway’ is an ideal solution to the problem of overburdened A&E departments, albeit that when walking down that pathway you’ll need to be careful not to get your shoes covered in dog shit.’
The Department of Health is confident the initiative can deliver both savings and increased quality. ‘In the same way that we’re telling patients to call 111 when their problem is less urgent than 999,’ explained Mr Hunt, ‘so we are advising patients to visit their local veterinary surgeon when they need someone to give them medical help, but that person doesn’t necessarily need a degree in human medicine.’
However, the scheme has been criticised by health watchdogs and animal campaigners who fear that the dual use of facilities could require vets to take some tough moral decisions. ‘As an animal charity, we find this to be a very hard bone to chew,’ said Chris Kaninski of Petwatch. ‘Yes, people should come before animals, but is an 85-year-old pensioner’s life worth more than a pedigree German Shepherd’s? Neither may be fully continent, but at least a dog can bring you the paper in the morning.’
But some patients have welcomed the new service. ‘I called 999 a couple of weeks ago after I fell down the stairs and was referred to the RSPCA,’ said Agnes Davidson of Newark in Nottinghamshire. ‘I was a bit nervous at first, but must say that the treatment I got was marvellous. Admittedly I didn’t really need to be speyed, and I have no idea why the vet needed to put his hand up my arse, but the worming tablets they prescribed for me are working a treat.’