Bunbury clinics call out for more vets as industry grapples with lack of morale

"We were broken": Bunbury and Eaton Vet Clinic veterinarian Dr Braden Collins shared the realities of what the industry was experiencing post COVID-19. Picture: Pip Waller

BUNBURY Vets have spoken up on the realities of the veterinarian industry as it grapples with lack of morale among dwindling staff numbers in the greater Bunbury region.

The Mail's article about a Bunbury-resident whose dog passed away after she was unable to pay the $100 emergency after hour fee raised questions over why a Bunbury vet clinic had decided to implement the fee.

Eaton and Bunbury Vet Clinic veterinarian Dr Braden Collins told the Mail that the decision came about because staff were "broken".

"After 22 years you really start to become worn out when you work a 10-hour day plus being on call - sometimes for consults that weren't classed as emergencies," Dr Collins said.

"So it's important for people to understand why we did this - it's not a way to make money, we don't make any profit from this - it was to make sure that we could keep offering this after hours service in Bunbury so clients didn't have to drive 90 minutes to Perth.

"Vets were coming to work exhausted and we just couldn't take another hit.

"If we didn't change things - the alternative was shutting down the service and we were just struggling to cope with the work load. It was adversely affecting our own lives."

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic some two years ago, plus Bunbury being short five to seven vets, Dr Collins said the workload of vets in Bunbury had increased "pretty dramatically".

He noted how the clinics had seen a rise in anxiety and stress among clients, their pets and also among staff.

Dr Collins with 12-year-old Eaton Vet Clinic golden retriever, Marvin.

Dr Collins with 12-year-old Eaton Vet Clinic golden retriever, Marvin.

"With COVID, something we never thought about before is dogs struggling with us wearing face masks because they can't read our body language - so dogs that were once relaxed with us are getting more anxious resulting in the need to go on medication," Dr Collins said.

"Then there are also costs going up significantly because of supply chain issues, so our expenses have gone up 20 to 30 per cent.

"We've absorbed as much as we can, but we won't be able to forever.

"We're at capacity, everyone is busy, and it's at the point where the entire industry needs a bit of a reset."

Treendale Pet Medical veterinarian Dr Rob Hill said while the Treendale clinic did not have the $100 after hours fee, the role of an after hours vet on call was "often thankless and challenging".

"The veterinarian on duty at Treendale has already worked a 12-18 hour day when you call them out of normal hours," Dr Hill said.

"At Treendale Pet Medical we feel a sense of duty to people and their animals in their hour of need and we have pride in our organisation - but it is exhausting, especially as there is no 24-hour emergency centre in Bunbury.

"Practices that provide an out of hours service struggle to employ veterinarians in the modern day because the modern veterinarian no longer wants to do after hours work, so unfortunately this means avoiding regional practices, which is a great challenge for us in Bunbury."

"Please understand that we're pushing ourselves to the limit - we can't lose anymore vets, or the problem will get worse."

Dr Braden Collins

The Veterinary Surgeons' Board of Western Australia is responsible for administering the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1960 in the industry, which is subject to an update in 2022.

To support vets in the industry, the board provides two consultations with a clinical psychologist for those seeking it.

Dr Collins wished to provide the following message for the Bunbury community:

"To our valued clients, we've got a commitment to be here for you and your animals at whatever time of day or night that they need it.

"The fee isn't a perfect system but it's a system that we feel will allow us to keep providing this service into the future.

"Please understand that we're pushing ourselves to the limit - we can't lose anymore vets, or the problem will get worse."