Staff at Canberra Veterinary Emergency Service (CVES) are frightened to open the door to clients in the middle of the night and regularly have to “take five” to cry in the staff room because of increasing abuse and threats levelled against them.
The aggression towards vets, nurses and front-of-house staff has increased so dramatically that CVES Leadership Team, under the Hospital Director, Dr Fraser Boneham, “with a heavy heart”, posted an open letter on their Facebook page on Monday night (22 January) asking clients to recognise that their staff are human beings, often working under trying circumstances and deserve better treatment.
“We are only humans and we deserve respect,” the letter said.
“During the last few weeks, our team has been experiencing an increase of abuse and aggressive behaviour from our visitors and clients.
“Yelling, foul language, hostility, mistreatment of others, intimidation, disrespect and even threats.”
CVES believes part of the problem is due to the economic climate, with fewer vet clinics available to offer out-of-hours care in Canberra, leaving it to bear the brunt of emergencies. The clinic opened seven years ago with the pledge to “make a difference” by providing an emergency service for Canberrans and their pets after hours.
Although there is a shortage of vets nationally, CVES, according to vet manager Megan Wright, has 67 people on its staff, from vets to nurses and reception staff. The vets work 12-hour shifts from 6 pm to 6 am, and the nurses and other staff work 10-hour stints. Not only do they deal with walk-in emergency cases, but they also care for animals who have come in from other vet clinics when no vets were available. She said a vet could deal with at least 18 animals in one shift, but it could go as high as 25.
Posting an open letter alerting people to the issues faced by the clinic staff was a last resort, Ms Wright said, adding that it resulted from full staff consultation.
“It had been building up for a while with an increase in aggressive clients,” she said.
But the situation became unbearable last week when a client used a racial slur when a vet was caring for their animal.
“This vet is a phenomenal member of our staff,” Ms Wright said.
“This really hit hard for all of us. She’s such a beautiful person, such an incredible vet – she even flew down from Brisbane to do shifts for us because we were short-staffed.
“When something like that happens, there is a knock-on effect for all of us. We had to make sure she was out of harm’s way, so she had to leave the floor, but the animal still had to be looked after.”
Ms Wright, who has been in the industry for 10 years, said although the situation was distressing, she could not imagine doing any other job.
“It’s that moment when you take off the animal’s hospital collar, and you put on their own collar, and their owner takes them out the door, that’s why we do it,” she said.
The letter sparked wide support on social media, with more than a thousand people applauding the post and hundreds more commenting on the care CVES had provided their pet.