Further activity has involved profiling veterinary nurses working in a variety of community roles and publishing these in order to inspire others to consider a similar move. The profiles obtained so far further demonstrate the diversity of community roles – ranging from providing end-of-life care to animals within an owner’s home, to educating pet owners on health and wellbeing. This has included a joint initiative between the PDSA and the NHS in providing ‘MOT health checks’ to both owners and their pets. One profile that we aim to publish on the VN Futures website, that of Kathy Kissick who is based in Alderney, really captures the essence of ‘community nursing’.
There are specific groups of people for whom having access to a community veterinary nurse would be of huge benefit, for example the elderly and those with long-term physical and/or mental health conditions, who may otherwise struggle to provide appropriate care for their pets. There is growing evidence of the positive effects of the human-animal bond on both mental and physical health. The VN role in assisting people with being able keep their pets and keep them healthy is imperative.
However, there are some important caveats that we need to stress when talking about the community veterinary nursing role.
Firstly, there is the legal requirement (under Schedule 3 of the Veterinary Surgeons Act) that says that veterinary nurses must work under the direction and employment of a veterinary surgeon. This does create challenges to the creation of what might be called a truly independent community veterinary nurse practitioner. The RCVS Legislation Working Party has recommended that the restriction that says veterinary nurses must be employed by a practice in order to be delegated work under Schedule 3 should be removed which should bolster the community veterinary nursing model, as the veterinary nurse would be working ‘with but not for’ a practice. However, this would take a change in legislation and so is unlikely to happen in the short-term.
Furthermore, conversations with both community medical nurses and their veterinary nurse counterparts, have echoed the very specific challenges of the community veterinary nursing role and the skills needed for this. For example, working away from the support of the practice environment can be very isolating and requires strong communication skills and a need for a higher level of professional autonomy. Working in the animal owner’s home environment can be a challenge in itself and it can be more difficult to maintain professional boundaries. Medical nurse colleagues have advised that safeguarding policies and an excellent support network are vital components in provision of community nursing.
The next steps in continuing to explore community veterinary nursing include looking at the training provided to human-centred nurses within this field, and the areas of training that have relevance and benefit to veterinary nurses wishing to pursue a community-based role. The conversations, including speaking with healthcare professionals in other fields, is expanding.
In summary, the group is clear that, notwithstanding some of the legal and regulatory limitations on the community veterinary nursing role, there is a growing need for its development and that its scope is broad. If this role was to be further established to focus on the animal owner’s home environment, then it would be wise to consider how this is supported, the additional training that would be critical and beneficial and the regulatory and legal frameworks under which they must currently operate. It is also clear that there is much that both professions can learn from each other and that a more collaborative approach would be hugely beneficial under the One Health, One Welfare umbrella.
Queen’s Nursing Institute Scotland (n.d.) What is Community Nursing? [Online] Available at: https://www.qnis.org.uk/what-is-community-nursing/