Afterhours safety of veterinary staff – risk mitigation strategies
Veterinarians are obliged to provide afterhours (AHs) services at their practices or access to afterhours services, depending on the state or territory in which they work. The AVA has collected some data around this issue; when viewing the profession in its entirety, 38% of the profession participate in afterhours (on call), with around 40% of those doing >30hours per week on call and spending 1-10 hours per week seeing patients (AVA workforce survey 2021). Equine veterinarians had a much higher rate of participation in afterhours, 89% participated in after-hours rosters and spent around 48 hours/week “on call” (Workforce sustainability in equine veterinarians - perceptions of stayers and leavers. 2021).
Veterinary services delivered afterhours are often performed solo or with very minimal staff, and veterinary practice employers have both a legal and moral obligation to ensure adequate safety for their employees, which can be challenging for many practices when providing afterhours services. There are financial, reputational, and mental health costs and considerations that impact on the operational business of a veterinary practice to address and mitigate these risks.
The provision of afterhours services is contributing to the mental health pressures on both veterinary business owners and employees, in turn impacting detrimentally on the profession’s workforce capacity. The requirement to be available 24/7 with no ability to rest and protect wellbeing has been highlighted as a major contributor (Australian Veterinary Association. Veterinary Wellness Strategy: Summary of research findings. 2021).
Sixty six percent of veterinarians would prefer to do less or no “on call” work (AVA workforce survey 2021). Being “on call,” as well as being poorly remunerated for it, was consistently ranked as one of the least satisfying aspects of equine work and people who left the equine sector were more dissatisfied with afterhours work than people who stayed in the equine sector (Workforce sustainability in equine veterinarians - perceptions of stayers and leavers. 2021).
A small survey was run in the Northern Territory around this issue and the following includes input received from veterinary practices as to what risk mitigation strategies they undertake for their staff attending afterhours calls.
- Personal duress alarms – worn in clinic and when traveling to/from AHs calls
- Clinic security alarm system that includes duress alarms responded to by police
- Security cameras throughout building – with remote access function for the attending staff to view building and surrounds before arriving at the practice
- External triage service or nurse from within the practice undertakes triage of calls to establish need for patient to be seen AHs and assess the risk for the staff to attend
- Nurse rostered on AHs duty with the vet - nurse can be called to accompany the vet if assessed this was needed
- Standard practice of minimum 2 people in building at all times - during regular and AHs work
- Buddy check-in system where another staff member is rostered to be available for the vet to call when the vet is on their way to practice to attend AHs call, and then again when returned home
- Phone access to practice owner or manager at all times
- Carry phone at all times and call police if concerned
- Staff who are rostered to be available to triage, support and attend afterhours work should be adequately renumerated
The pooling of staff resources across practices should be undertaken wherever practicable to reduce the total number of staff required to be on afterhours rosters. If this is happening in your community and it’s working well, we would welcome insights. If you have additional helpful strategies that we can share with colleagues, please contact email@example.com.