Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Held together with 'laccy bands and bits of string

Many of the people who come into contact with us for one reason or another get very frustrated because they feel we're not delivering the standard of service they expect. Conversely, many of the people we pay to provide some of those services aren't at all happy about the degree of pressure they're working under and the way the public often expect them field complaints about aspects of the RSPCA that aren't anything to do with them.

Clinic this morning was a case in point. One of our clients had bred some puppies from his bitch and one of them had diarrhoea. As the puppy was only three weeks old he was a bit reluctant to bring it to the surgery and he'd got it into his head that we ought to be able to diagnose and prescribe on the basis of a stool sample. He phoned in; argued with the volunteer receptionist about this and she took his number so that one of the vets could call him back. They were horrendously busy that morning and didn't get finished seeing patients until mid-day, at which point they still had several animals needing to be admitted to the hospital as in-patients and a string of other telephone call-backs to make.

By this time, Mr X. was pretty peeved that he'd not been called back yet, and decided to phone me on the out of hours number. All I could do was reiterate that the puppy really needed to be seen (otherwise there's no way to tell whether it's getting dehydrated) and that I would leave a message asking the vets if it was possible to call him a.s.a.p. Strictly speaking at this point I was asking them to bend the rules as the puppy a) could have been taken to the morning session and b) wasn't registered with the clinic (although its mum is) so isn't covered by our agreement with the Vet School to see registered patients outside normal hours in an emergency. Twenty minutes later he still hadn't got to the top of the urgent call-backs and phoned me ranting and raving that we didn't care about animals and why should he have to wait when his puppy was ill.

I am afraid that the answer is that you get what you pay for. Our annual turnover is around £200,000, which is a frighteningly large amount for a group of volunteers to raise. It relates to an annual demand for help for around 3,000-4,000 individual animals—less than £100 per animal. That means we have to do things on the cheap wherever possible. Our value to the University for student teaching means they charge us a lot less than a commercial rate for veterinary services, but it does mean consultations take longer (because the qualified vet needs to discuss the animals' conditions with the students). If we could pay the University enough for them to employ an extra vet at each session that would decrease waiting times, but that would mean raising at least another £40,000 every year. Similar considerations explain why our telephone availability is less than perfect (we're mostly volunteers taking calls in our spare time, not paid reception staff).

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