If you are finding it hard to get an appointment at your local vet clinic, there’s no point complaining. This is your new reality, and you better get used to it.
The veterinary sector, like the rest of New Zealand, is suffering from the effects of Covid-19. It’s caught in a perfect storm of increased demand, closed borders, the debacle of MIQ, and a fixed forward pipeline of new vets coming out of tertiary education.
The result is a chronic shortage of vets that will continue for at least the medium term, as it takes five years to train a vet. Massey University offers New Zealand’s only veterinary degree. Its head of the veterinary science school said recently that Massey would be delighted to train more than 100 vets a year, but couldn’t because numbers were set by the Tertiary Education Commission.
We humans are partly to blame for the shortage. Last year’s lockdown resulted in a surge in pet ownership, with dog ownership increasing 30% and cat ownership by 40% in the first six months of this year, compared to 2020, according to the Companion Animal Council.
A survey last year by the Veterinarians’ Association identified a need for around 220 vets nationwide, a gap equal to roughly 8% of total number of vets in the country.
Locally, vet practices are doing what they can to manage workloads and protect the wellbeing of overworked staff members.
In early September, Taradale Veterinary Clinic wrote to clients, sharing news that (for the foreseeable future) the clinic would no longer be open on the weekend, due to severe shortages of vets and vet nurses.
The practice said: “COVID-19 has resulted in many of our international vets and nurses either moving back home, or being unable to re-locate to New Zealand,” and noted apologetically “it truly affects us when we cannot assist all our clients due to an over-demand for appointments.”
A Vet industry recruiter says temporary closures and in some case permanent closures are becoming more common, as the shortage bites.
Last year, a border exception was granted for 30 vets, and in June, a further exception was made for another 50. As we know, spots in MIQ are scarcer than hens’ teeth, so it should come as no surprise that only two of the 50, have arrived, with a further 11 relying on the lottery that is MIQ. The shortage remains, despite Government support.
So what does that mean? Probably a lolly scramble for available talent, and inevitably a bidding war for that talent. Not only will you have to wait longer to get an appointment, you might end up paying more for that consult, and it’s likely your animal will be attended by a stressed out, overworked clinician. Not good for them, and potentially, not good for your animal.
With the labour shortage reaching crisis point, we pet owners need to dial back our expectation of instant service for routine appointments (know that emergency care will always be available) and spare a thought for the hardworking animal health specialists taking care of our fur babies. They’re doing their best, in trying circumstances.