Following the Prime Minister’s recent announcement to reintroduce national restrictions across England from 5 November until 2 December 2020, the RCVS has on 4 November 2020 further updated its key guidance for the veterinary professions that explains the type of work that can be carried out under varying government restrictions around the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Due to the increasing complexity of having different types of restrictions of varying durations across four nations, the RCVS has now produced specific guidance for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to help veterinary professionals quickly identify the right guidance based on where they practise.
The College published its original guidance, in the form of a flowchart, during the early phase of the pandemic to support veterinary decision-making during lockdown. Since then, it has updated the flowchart several times to reflect the subsequent relaxation and then retightening of government restrictions.
The flowchart also referred to the option for veterinary surgeons to remotely prescribe prescription-only veterinary medicines (POM-Vs) without first carrying out a physical examination of the animal, subject to certain conditions. RCVS Council initially allowed this temporary derogation from the College’s usual guidance to ensure that animal health and welfare could be maintained during the pandemic, without risking the health of veterinary teams or their clients; it then added further safeguards around remote prescribing in both late September
and early October.
The latest RCVS guidance is in line with the four UK governments’ current rules concerning which workplaces can continue to operate, in light of restrictions on travel and social distancing.
Generally, veterinary practices may remain open, but there are national variations in what, and how, services should be offered and prioritised, including at what point, and under what conditions, remote prescribing may be used to help support a case.
Wales currently has the tightest “firebreak” restrictions, meaning practices can only provide essential and urgent work until midnight on 8 November 2020, thereafter, returning to usual operations in line with Wales’ standard measures around workplace safety.
England and Northern Ireland are under national restrictions (4 Nov – 2 Dec, and 16 Oct – 12 Nov, respectively), meaning practices can provide treatment essential for maintaining animal health and welfare, along with non-urgent work providing that social distancing measures and safe working can be maintained.
Veterinary surgeons practising in these three countries may also choose to support a case remotely at an earlier stage, for example, through the remote prescribing of POM-Vs without first having conducted a physical examination.
Scotland remains the only country under regional tiered restrictions, meaning practices can continue to provide treatment whilst maintaining social distancing; however, before remote prescribing is offered, veterinary surgeons should first consider whether the animal can be brought under their care.
The College will continue to keep all guidance under review and in line with subsequent changes in the UK governments’ restrictions.