How to move a veterinary practice... - Veterinary Practice
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How to move a veterinary practice…

Gareth Cross describes how, despite delays with the phone systems, his practice’s move into new premises took place, and praises the time and effort put in by his wonderful staff.

TO BUILD A BRAND NEW PRACTICE takes a long time, not so much the actual building, but the lead up and planning.

We were coming to the end of the build and were trying to plan a moving date. The defining element of moving a business is the phones and broadband line. Nearly all our business starts with a phone call and most of our payments are by card and go over the phoneline. All our ordering is automated via broadband.

I could easily fill all 12 of next year’s columns with comedy of errors transcripts of phone calls and e-mails to and from BT, and have already covered some of their mishaps (with hilarious consequences) in previous editions of this column.

A special low point was when, about two months before our moving date, our BT project manager asked, “What new building?”

I know I am not alone with problems with phones and utilities: a client informed me BT had held up his office move by five months; and a veterinary colleague had bought a CT scanner but had to wait several months for the promised installation of the necessary electricity supply, by which time his machine had been resold and he had to wait for a new one.

Ask me if I am getting fibre optic broadband and I can give at least three different categorical answers from the same person from BT at different times: “Definitely not, no capacity in this area for years”; then a week later casually “Oh yes, you can get fibre optic on this line”; then finally, “You might get it later.”

BT seemingly got its act together and sent some engineers to install the internal phone system; they seemed very pleasant and left without having activated any of the night time diverts. That was finally corrected after we had moved. Because of our rollercoaster ride of misinformation and poor service regarding phones, we could not con rm the moving date until the week before we moved. We had removal men booked, a local IT person to move the computers and reinstate the network, all on hold for the phones.

By Thursday of the last week (as I write)we had the final all-clear and began planning in earnest. Helpfully, BT had cut off one of the phone lines early so all card payments had to be relayed verbally by phone to the branch practice for the last three days.

The last consults in the old place had some poignancy; after all, this had been a veterinary practice for over 30 years and a dental practice for decades before that – the old dentist’s light is still there.

I had spent over 10 years there and most of the staff have been with us for many years. So this was the end of over half a century of clinical practice for the building. However, as I looked round at the mildew and sagging ceilings any sadness was quickly erased. It is amazing we had managed to function there for so long: each room was like a Russian doll with multiple functions – back consult cum x-ray, office cum pharmacy cum staff room, prep room cum lab cum dental room, dog and cat mixed wards, etc.

All these rooms could now be unpacked from each other and each function given its own room. The electrics were dreadful and we filled two boxes with four-way adapters when we moved!

After we had locked up for the final time, we all decamped to a nearby pub for food, beer and last-minute planning which went along the lines of questions to me like, “So what’s the plan?” and answers from me like, “I am sure it will be fine.”

The best thing about the move itself was the staff response. Without any request from myself or Henry (the other owner) they all volunteered to help on the Saturday. After they had volunteered we did pay them, but I was touched by their immediate willingness to give up a weekend to help.

So we had a packing team, a clearing team and an unpacking team. Plus lots of their partners turned up as well, some with large vans and one was an electrician. The movers packed some of the less fragile items, such as the office furniture and books, etc.

We did Saturday consults at the branch and I was on call and had an emergency bucket of drugs handy in case anything got mislaid during the move. The only bit missing in the 24-hour service was x-ray and the contents of the whole room were moved en bloc in an hour or two by a specially designated x-ray team of staff and their partners. So we were without x-ray for barely two hours.

I think we could have maintained 24-hour service without the branch surgery but it would have been difficult. As it happened, I had a quiet weekend, no mid move GDV. We also have a good relationship with our local referral/first opinion centre and any really demanding case they would take for us. I think anyone moving a practice would be well advised to have some local back-up as well.

So the move went by in a flurry of vans and boxes and by 7pm Saturday evening we called it a day and had something resembling a veterinary practice. Seeing the computers on with the practice management system working was when it finally felt like we had arrived. Sunday was spent trying to get front-of-house and a consult room or two ready.

The reception area has a fantastic bespoke reception desk in it, but the customer seating is something we are still working on and in hindsight I wish we had got that a bit more finished before opening.

Three weeks on and the building is functioning fantastically. The new standards of insulation are incredible and rather than having hot radiators and draughty windows letting all the heat out, we now barely need any heating at all.

The fresh air ventilation and heat exchanger delivers cool outside air to each room. No more stuffy, steamy winter waiting rooms and smelly consult rooms.

It is great to see workflow patterns coming alive and things we talked about with the architect three years ago coming to life: for example, being able to take a dog straight from the consult rooms to kennels without having to go through reception or the prep room.

Also, having the theatres and prep room as a dead end, so there is no through traffic at all; staff rooms and office with French doors opening onto a south-facing patio. All these things that started as a conversation about how to improve working conditions now not only being built but coming alive with people and animals – and functioning well.

However good a building is though, it is the people in it that make it a good place to work. My staff are wonderful, and I know this because they told me so when they gave Henry and me a bottle of champagne each with the label: “Congratulations for the new building, from your wonderful staff.”

And if I was given the choice of staying in the new building with a different, difficult bunch of staff, or going back to the old place with our current staff, I wouldn’t hesitate to stick with the wonderful ones!

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