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Vets recruited to work in hospitals during coronavirus outbreak


NHS trusts are recruiting vets to help relieve pressure on health service staff as hospitals struggle to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

About 150 vets are volunteering as respiratory assistants with Torbay and South Devon NHS foundation trust, while Hampshire hospitals NHS foundation trust has invited vets, veterinary nurses and dentists to apply for jobs.

Hospitals are being stretched by the scale of the outbreak, which has yet to reach its peak. Pressures are being exacerbated by staff absences due to healthcare workers having contracted the virus or self-isolating because of a suspicion they may have it.

The respiratory assistants at Torbay and South Devon will be unpaid, according to the Health Service Journal, which first reported their recruitment. The Guardian understands they were undergoing training via Zoom on Thursday. They will not be making decisions about triage, intubation or withdrawal of medical treatment, the trust confirmed.

A spokesperson said: “We have received many offers of voluntary help from veterinary staff who have valuable skills that can be used to support frontline staff who are dealing with respiratory problems.”

A job advert for bedside support workers at Hampshire trust, whose recruitment drive was first reported by Vet Times, says that successful applicants will be paid between £17,000 and £42,000, with vets, veterinary surgeons and dentists in a higher salary band than veterinary or dental nurses.

A spokesperson for the trust said: “Following a number of offers of help from skilled professionals working outside the NHS, such as vets and dentists, we have developed a bespoke role called a bedside support worker.

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“This is a role we have created in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which will support our brilliant staff in critical care and on medical wards, who are all working tirelessly to respond to this unprecedented challenge.

“Patient care remains our top priority, and only those who are assessed to have the appropriate transferable skills, education and training will temporarily join our team.”

Vets have been contributing to the crisis effort in other ways. On Thursday, Willow Farm vets, a team that works across northern England, said it had donated 4,000 protective gowns, amid concerns about a shortage of personal protective equipment for hospital staff. It followed VetPartners, based in York, which said on Monday that it was donating masks, aprons, gloves and ventilators to the health service.

Dr Rachel Dean, director of clinical research and excellence in practice at VetPartners, said some ventilators used on animals were the same as those used on humans, particularly on children.

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons issued advice to its members on Wednesday about how they could best help during the Covid-19 pandemic, recommending that they consider assisting the livestock production, meat hygiene and food import/export industries before volunteering with the NHS.

The college’s registrar, Eleanor Ferguson, said: “If local NHS trusts do choose to employ veterinary professionals to undertake roles that are not reserved by law to licensed doctors, nurses or other regulated professionals, they must be satisfied that the individual has the skills and competencies to do that role.

“However, any veterinary professionals employed in these roles should not misrepresent their position to patients and must be careful not to hold themselves out as a licensed medical doctor or nurse.”

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