Changing times may need a change of attitude in practice... - Veterinary Practice
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Changing times may need a change of attitude in practice…

THE MERCURY COLUMN in which a guest columnist takes the temperature of the profession – and the world around

WHEN I was very young, we used to have a huge bakelite radio in the dining room and when we had tea in the evening, we’d listen to The Archers.

Our first TV was all black and white, there was just one channel, shown on a screen roughly the size of a large diary. Politicians were honourable and resigned at the faintest whiff of wrong-doing and men stood up on buses to let a lady have a seat.

One’s parents looked geriatric by the age of 40 and, somehow, the Church played a far greater part in most people’s lives than today; even if people didn’t attend regularly, its influence appears to me now to have been far stronger.

In retrospect, life was more straightforward and everything appeared to me, as a child, to have a sense of order.

In the post-war period, most people had insufficient cash to buy things and credit simply didn’t exist for most families except in some organised way such as a Christmas Club. There was little overt envy for what other families had because they didn’t have very much worth the effort of coveting it, yet, today, our standing in society has been, in a rather American way, governed to a large extent by the money we spend rather than by other, possibly more telling values.

The type of house we live in, the area we choose to live in, the cars we drive, the clothes we wear – these have all told a story about us and we are hugely adept at stereotyping one another.

It’s easy with young people; they, more than most, like to assume a type of uniform in their behaviour, language and clothing that readily identifies them as aspiring to a certain style. It’s harder now, of course, because crossover fashions in clothing, in music, in language are equally acceptable in people aged 20 and people aged 40 or more.

Ageing gracefully

When, however, I last went to see the Rolling Stones in concert – I’ve been enough times for a season ticket – even I was struck by the number of audience who’d turned up fresh from work, still wearing a suit. Some things age gracefully and some things last for ever – I hope!

Some things will need to change and the financial meltdown of our banking system has taken most of us by surprise. That includes me but I don’t know why, when the warning signs have been there for all of us to see for more than 12 months.

Somehow, most of the people I speak to have a blind faith in the Government to sort it all out as if this were an irritating minor power cut during the X Factor.

No one seems to have been looking at the insurance industry or the slide in hedge funds – both of which will need a bail-out of unheard of proportions if they start to collapse and that, in case you’ve been looking the other way for a few weeks, will affect everyone’s pension provision both in terms of the sum assured, the possible timing of any payout and the terrifying inadequacy of whatever may, finally, be paid.

Affecting everyone

While this will affect every one of us, unless we’ve had the rare foresight to have spent everything we’ve earned and saved the square root of zero, but it will also affect those coming into our practices.

While we are able to maintain full employment for our staff and ourselves, it may be easy to forget that, for many of our clients, the means to pay our charges may be constrained by an unyielding constraint on the family budget.

The speed of onset of this financial problem will have left many families already in debt and possibly trapped within a spiral of negative equity. The traditional final resort to the credit card is already proving difficult for many and the outbreak of a rash of calculators visible as people trek around the supermarket is telling.

This is not a call for a cessation of standards nor for proposing only the most basic of treatments. It is, however, prudent to mention other treatments when a cheaper one will suffice and to keep an eye on the Robin Hood nature of junior staff when it comes to calculating the charge for treatments given.

All in all, people will want to continue to do the best for their pets and this profession doesn’t want to see a return to the numbers of abandoned pets that heralded the last serious recession in the UK.

This is quite clearly a time for helping clients and their families to maintain the enjoyable habit of owning a pet.

Recessions do not usually last long but habits, once broken, can be the devil’s own job to change back.

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