NHS England Twitter Photo
Vets who have volunteered to help England’s National Health Service have been told they may be called to one of the country’s Nightingale field hospitals dedicated to treating COVID-19. The first Nightingale Hospital was built in East London. Six more are being built or are in the final stages of construction.
When it quickly became clear that the world was facing a shortage of supplies to treat COVID-19 patients, veterinarians around the world jumped to donate medical equipment such as ventilators and surgical masks.
Now veterinarians from London to New York are preparing to offer something different: themselves.
Direct calls to the veterinarian to help with practical treatment for COVID-19 patients do not appear to be particularly widespread yet. Many hospitals have been able to tap a supply of doctors and nurses who are no longer tied to canceled elections to serve on their front lines.
However, calls for outside help have grown louder over the past week as the number of coronavirus cases continues to surge in the hardest hit countries like the United States and the United Kingdom.
The UK government-backed National Health Service (NHS) last week offered select veterinarians the opportunity to earn the equivalent of up to £ 24,157 (US $ 30,080) per year treating COVID-19 patients.
In the United States, a number of states, including New York, Illinois, and Vermont, are calling on veterinarians to stand by to help when needed, offering their medical expertise in hospitals or looking after the dead in funerals.
The burden on national health systems is made worse by cases of doctors and nurses contracting the virus. According to a report Published on Tuesday April 9th by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 9,282 healthcare workers in the U.S. alone had COVID-19 and at least 27 had died.
In the UK, dozens of doctors and nurses have also paid with their lives, while many more have been forced into home isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 at work.
“Bedside Buddies” wanted
One particular NHS branch in southwest England – the NHS Foundation Trust in Torbay and South Devon – believes that the number of ICU beds it needs will soon increase by a factor of 10. In early April, she reached out directly to veterinarians for help.
“While obtaining physical kit is relatively straightforward, appropriately qualified personnel is the resource that [we] critically absent, “wrote two of the Trusts’ advisors in the intensive care unit in a letter to British veterinary associations.
The trusts approach was first reported in the Health Services Journal. The contents of the letter were confirmed to VIN News Service by trust communications manager Laura Jenkins, who said she had received “many offers” of volunteer help from the veterinary community.
Jenkins confirmed that veterinarians and zookeepers (more commonly referred to as vet technicians in the US) are being trained as “breathing assistants” who act as the “eyes and ears” of the medical staff in the intensive care unit. The trust emphasized that roles would not include making decisions about triage, airway interventions such as intubation, or decisions about withdrawing from active treatment. The training was conducted virtually through Zoom, and the trust said it reassured volunteers that they will be provided with personal protective equipment.
“We are currently working politically to insure your liability for this work,” wrote the ICU advisors in their letter. “However, we wanted to start training with a forecast two-week period ahead of the forecast increase so that we would not be left behind by bureaucracy.”
Jenkins confirmed that the positions at Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust were entirely voluntary. Participants would not be paid. Elsewhere, however, other NHS trusts offer money in exchange for help.
The Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which last week looked after an area about 90 km west of London posted ads on job sites including LinkedIn and Glassdoor looking for “Bedside Support Agents”. (The Glassdoor contribution has now expired.)
Q.Qualified veterinarians and dentists would be paid at the higher end of the NHS “Band 4” rates, currently £ 24,157 (US $ 30,080) a year. Vets and dentists would be paid at the highest “band-three” rates, currently £ 21,142 (US $ 26,325) a year.
“Patient care remains our number one priority and only those with the appropriate transferable skills, education and training will be placed on our team temporarily,” Vicky Miles, interim communications manager for the trust, told VIN News.
Another trust, the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, which oversees five hospitals in London, has been promoting “Bedside Buddies” to help treat COVID-19 cases. The position pays £ 22,478 to £ 23,810 ($ 27,990 to $ 29,645) per year.
“We haven’t conducted targeted recruiting for specific professions. Obviously, we would appreciate applications from veterinarians and zookeepers,” Katie Johnson, manager of the trust’s recruitment campaign, told VIN News.
Still, the UK’s veterinary regulator, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, is warning veterinarians not to get carried away.
Registrar Eleanor Ferguson reminded the profession in a statement released last week that there are legal restrictions on how much medical assistance veterinarians can lawfully provide and how they should represent themselves to patients.
“We recognize that the government’s current priority is to recruit retired and non-practicing health professionals and to provide preliminary registration to medical students in the final year,” the statement said.
“To that end, we encourage veterinarians to first consider what support they might be able to provide to the animal production, meat hygiene and food import / export industries before volunteering to help directly with local NHS trusts. “
Help for those who have died
Across the Atlantic in New York State, veterinarians have been asked to help with a more macabre task: caring for the bodies of those killed by COVID-19.
On Monday, the Greater New York Hospital Association sent a note to veterinarians on behalf of the State Office of the Chief Medical Examiner asking for help with corpse surgeries.
“They are particularly looking for veterinary staff because they are familiar with the deceased and bereaved,” the email read, along with instructions on how to volunteer as an undertaker in New York City. The city is reported to have been overwhelmed by a coronavirus death toll that has exceeded 8,450.
“Somebody’s got to take care of the dead and they thought vets would be good at it,” said Tim Atkinson, executive director of the New York State Veterinary Medical Society. “They know they can trust veterinarians as medical professionals to treat the dead with respect, keep good records and call the bereaved when necessary.”
Not everyone welcomed the invitation. Some vets were surprised by the language in the body handling notice. Others were disappointed that asking for volunteers included dealing with the deceased rather than caring for the living.
Far more, however, have expressed a desire to get involved, Atkinson said. “I have probably heard of people who have gone and put their names in,” he said. “It’s early, so I haven’t heard if anyone has been selected. Hospitals will draw on this pool and reach out to people if necessary.”
Requests in the United States for help from veterinarians were not limited to just funeral work.
Latex gloves 288
Photo by Dr. Stephanie Keating
Disinfectants and latex gloves are among the medical supplies and equipment the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine is willing to donate to caring for human patients with COVID-19.
The University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine has developed what is known as a COVID-19 support network of Illinois veterinarians to help catalog emergency management resources in the state. Last month, the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association sent emails to members on behalf of the network collecting the names of practitioners willing to donate relief supplies and medical expertise to fight COVID-19.
More than 200 vets had signed up since last week to help if needed, said Dr. Stephanie Keating, a veterinary anesthesiologist and clinical assistant professor who started the network.
The Illinois Emergency Management Network has now taken over the registration. State officials have identified veterinary medicine as a “priority occupation” at Illinois Helps, a website designed to check the backgrounds and licenses of potential volunteers. To mobilize volunteers for medical purposes, an order from the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Chicago Department of Public Health, or their agents is required.
Keating has also compiled a list of equipment in the private and public sectors that could be loaned to hospitals in need. “We’re all working hard to coordinate these efforts,” she said. “There is good communication within the emergency management agency. For example, if physiological monitors are needed, this call will go out and people could respond.”
Vermont veterinarians are also volunteering as potential volunteers ready to donate their time and supplies for use in human hospitals.
Governor Phil Scott called those with medical experience last week to help with the state’s COVID-19 response. An online filing states: “The COVID-19 pandemic is developing rapidly. So we urge Vermonters to sign up, let us know what skills they can offer, and be ready for action when needed.”
In a briefing Friday, Scott extended the state’s stay-at-home order until May 15. Cautiously optimistic, he said the latest coronavirus projection in Vermont points to a peak in the next two weeks.
“At the moment things seem to be fine,” said Dr. Erin Forbes, a spokeswoman for the Vermont Veterinary Medical Association. “When we get called, they don’t say we will intubate people and perform medical procedures.” Hopefully it never gets that bad. I think they would only submit us if it was a dire circumstance. “