The British Veterinary Association (BVA) is calling on animal owners to consider the impact their online behaviour has on vets and veterinary teams. Figures released on 30 April to mark World Veterinary Day show one in two vets working in clinical practice experienced online abuse last year.
As part of their new “Respect your vet team – end abuse” campaign, BVA is encouraging animal owners to “think before they type” and consider the impact that harassment, trolling and unfair reviews can have on veterinary staff.
BVA President Justine Shotton said: “The current pressures on vet teams are immense and it’s simply unacceptable that their jobs should be made even harder by abuse from clients, either online or in person.
“We’re very aware that a visit to the vet may be an anxious and uncertain time for animal owners, particularly when the prognosis is poor or the necessary treatment is costly, but it is absolutely unacceptable to take these frustrations out on veterinary staff.
“I would ask all owners to think before they type and consider whether their online comments are fair, respectful and courteous.
“Most clients are cooperative and grateful for the care their animals receive but a small minority are creating an intolerable environment for veterinary professionals in person and online. I know from experience the huge impact that a single aggressive or intimidating interaction with a client can have on your mental well-being.
“When incidents mount up it is no surprise that they can affect our sense of job satisfaction and ultimately drive skilled veterinary staff out of the profession.”
New statistics from Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey show that online abuse of veterinary professionals is nearly as common as abuse in person. In another survey last year 57 percent of vets in clinical practice reported that they had felt intimidated by clients’ language or behaviour over the past year, an increase of ten percentage points since the same question was asked in 2019.
The most common type of online abuse reported by vets was unfair reviews (90 percent). Almost half of those who experienced online abuse had experienced abusive language (46 percent), while one in three (33 percent) experienced trolling. A further three in ten (31 percent) experienced online harassment.
Veterinary services across the country faced have faced unprecedented pressures in recent years due to the combined impact of Brexit, COVID-19 and a boom in pet ownership. The new figures show that the impact of online abuse can be significant: vets who had experienced online abuse in the past 12 months were more likely to report that they will have left the profession in five years’ time to pursue another career (29 percent versus 9 percent of vets who had not experienced abuse). Female vets (45 percent versus 30 percent male) and younger vets (49 percent under 35 versus 27 percent those 55 and over) were more likely to experience online abuse.
As part of their new campaign, BVA is releasing a toolkit with new resources to support Team Vet in protecting staff and limiting the frequency and impact of abuse from clients. These include new practical tips on how to protect veterinary staff from online abuse, downloadable posters and graphics and a series of blogs. BVA is also working with Vetlife to tackle the effect of abuse on mental health and well-being and further resources will be added later this year.
Justine added: “The focus of World Vet Day this year is resilience, but that cannot just mean individual vets struggling on in the face of aggressive and unpleasant behaviour from clients. Most clients are cooperative and grateful for the care their animals receive but a small minority are creating an intolerable environment for veterinary professionals in person and online.
“We’re hoping that this toolkit will be a first step in supporting vet teams to have conversations about these problems and to put practical support in place to limit their impact. If we want to protect the well-being of veterinary professionals and tackle retention issues, we must protect our teams.”
Vetlife Helpline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on: 0303 040 2551 or via anonymous email.