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Stephanie DeWitt chats with Alastair MacVicar

By Stephanie DeWitt 

Has your practice and office remained open during this period of lockdown?

We have furloughed two-thirds of the office staff and the vets are each working for three weeks at a time. Our veterinary work has contracted to about 20% of our normal workload. In other words, it is down by four-fifths.

What veterinary services have had to be withdrawn temporarily?

Initially veterinary services were shut down very tightly but then the Royal College relaxed its advice. To start with we were only supposed to carry out work that would prevent suffering in animals, such as cases of laminitis or colic or dealing with wound repair, but this ruling has been relaxed. Now we are able to carry out a limited amount of vaccinations, vetting, blood testing and other routine procedures. But please note, if a horse's vaccination has lapsed in the meantime and is overdue, the whole regime must be restarted in the normal way.

Are you able to advise clients over the phone and dispense appropriate medication?

I am happy to do a telephone interview with a client and the rules about dispensing medicines have been relaxed a little with regards to repeat prescriptions. Normally these would not be issued unless I have seen the equine within the previous six months. But, under the current circumstances, I might be happy to take blood samples at a future date when things have returned to normal. The rule would be to do what is best for the horse.

Under what circumstances would you consider a yard visit?

I need to know that the horse or pony I am treating is safe for me to handle by myself. If not, then I would be unable to attend.

What precautions would you need to take?

The bottom line is that I mustn't put myself at risk. First of all I have to ascertain that a client has no coronavirus symptoms and hasn't been in contact with anyone else who has. At a yard visit I have to keep at a safe distance from the client. An owner can be present but must stay twelve feet away from me and the horse. The horse must only be handled by the vet.

I wear full PPE - a face mask, a calving gown, waterproof trousers, boots, long arm gloves with short gloves on top. Everything which isn't disposable must be thoroughly disinfected afterwards. Everything I touch must be wiped down, all my equipment, even my car. I am happy to use Virkon as a good disinfectant. All this sounds quite nit-picking but no one is quite sure how long the virus can remain infectious on inanimate objects - perhaps up to 30 hours.

In the current situation, what advice would you give to horse owners/riders?

In my experience, riders and owners often put the welfare of their horses first. But, especially at the moment, they have to have a change of mentality and consider themselves as highly as they consider their equines.

Make sure you disinfect everything at your yard, in particular common contact points such as taps, hoses, keypads, door handles, gates and so on. Keep safe!

What are you doing at the moment to keep busy/amuse yourself?

My feet haven't touched the floor since lockdown! I've been catching up with the administrative work, sorting out insurance claims and learning a lot through webinars and educational reading. I've also now achieved my qualification as a zoo inspector.

Apart from all that, I've been doing the outstanding jobs on the farm, repairing and renewing things.

To get away from this situation, where in the world would you rather be?

New Zealand - the Land of the Long White Cloud! I lived there for three years and nearly stayed. The people are lovely, along with the wine and food, especially the seafood. They're very much into outdoor activities such as sailing and horses. A wonderful place!

Alastair MacVicar B.V.M. & S MRCVS

Alastair MacVicar B.V.M. & S MRCVS

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