Living near the edge - Veterinary Practice
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Living near the edge

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

AT the recent BSAVA Congress, I overheard two delegates expressing their concern that one of the earlier speakers had posed a lot of questions but not provided answers.

It seemed to me that the speaker had ably described a series of situations under employment law and had pointed out the very real pitfalls but I do accept that we each see and hear things differently.

In law, there is very often a fine line that separates issues; for instance, when does assertiveness in the workplace become bullying?; when does casual conversation develop into harassment?; and, in normal life, when does warning comment become doom-mongering?

Like other animals, humans are set up to take note of warnings. The pain reflex is designed as a sophisticated warning and when birds send up a warning call to broadcast the imminent presence of a cat, there is both purpose and urgency in the function that is widely understood by others in the vicinity.

Warnings allow us to adapt our behaviour to increase our chances of survival or success. People who burn themselves twice are considered foolish or clumsy by the collective consciousness of others around them and, in social or business situations, a warning is intended to change behaviour, to activate a course of action.

In the simplest animal terms, we’re designed for fight or flight and some species excel at one rather than the other. Humans, it appears, have developed a fine sense of ignoring the warnings; possibly because our social code of behaviour does not consider it acceptable to show concern until the danger is right upon us. In the cinema, it is not cool to shriek when things turn nasty despite that being a normal autonomic reaction.

In the event of a financial meltdown in a person’s business, it is expected that the poor incumbent should go about his or her daily business as if nothing were happening. So much of this is unwritten in our various coda of behaviour but, almost osmotically, we know what is expected of us.

Another way?

The spirit of our Victorian forebears is alive and well in each and every one of us. What, to one person, may be doom and gloom is little more than informed comment to another but, in the event of something going wrong, are we better to cling to the wreckage for as long as possible or to accept that this is a time to shuffle off the dead skin and create another way of doing things?

There is an argument that suggests that, as civilisations become more complex, more strata are required to maintain some form of control and, progressively, people lose sight of the key issues, becoming more and more concerned with the details of the management strata.

In simplistic terms, we all recognise the jobsworth, the boxtickers and the time-servers in life, surrounded and protected by the minutiae of regulation.

Conversely, the real issues of the world – hunger, war, law and order, the threat of pandemic disease, global warming – to mention just five, appear to prick our consciousness when artfully presented to us but soon run flat if over-exposed when the public suffers compassion fatigue.

How can issues as vast as this ever be over-exposed and what vanity and complacence could create the concept of compassion fatigue?

Are we not at risk of burying our heads in the sand if we ignore the strident warnings occurring in our everyday life and should we not be taking this opportunity to re-think the areas where profound change will be inevitable whether or not we like it? A deterioration in standards of behaviour has been particularly rapid over recent years, as any paramedic will tell you.

There were 110,000 assaults against NHS staff in 2005 and the very fact that a veterinary practice was recently robbed, at gunpoint, in the West Midlands, should signal that our own way of life is under threat. Some people fear that collapse in the system is inevitable while others see that collapse as an opportunity to improve the structure.

The veterinary press has been criticised recently for scaremongering about the falling numbers of active clients in small animal practice.

The data shown are irrefutable but, whether or not the tonality has been right, dismissing it as overreaction will not magically negate the warning, nor the need to consider a different course of action if the future is to be more assured than this.

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