6 January 2021
BVNA President Statement on Key Workers January 2021
When we went into the first lockdown on the 23rd of March last year, we held our breath and stepped together into the unknown. Life became very different for everybody and genuinely scary for a great many people who feared the virus, the isolation, the uncertainty of it all.
In our profession, we had a lot to learn. We needed to find a new way of working in practice whilst integrating a multitude of new restrictions. We had to revert to emergency work only and suddenly everybody became aware of a new word – ‘furlough’. We had no idea of how long these changes would last but we all hoped it wouldn’t be for too long.
Here we are nearly ten months later, facing the 3rd National Lockdown of the COVID Pandemic. We have spent months enduring sporadic regional lockdowns whilst adapting to a new way of working. Across the country, colleagues have faced those challenges constructively, with courage and optimism. In this latest lockdown however, as happened in March, we’re once again faced with the closure of schools.
There is much discussion and debate within the online forums about key worker status, with many VN’s feeling undervalued and unappreciated at not falling into that category. In March 2020 we issued a press release as to why VN’s were not classed as Key Workers, a key part of which I’d like to share again here:
‘A Keyworker revolves around that worker being able to apply for childcare to carry out their job. It is not a guarantee of childcare. Even NHS staff who are key workers are being asked to not apply for childcare. We have been asked to practice social distancing, this is why schools have closed. This is crucial to slow the spread of COVID-19, this is not a job security.’
Schools are defining a Key Worker as anybody whose work is critical to the COVID response. They have made clear that parents/carers should only apply if their job meets that one requirement. They have also emphasized that if children can safely stay at home then they should, to limit the chance of the virus spreading. Schools have been asked to remain open only for those children who are vulnerable or whose parents/carers are both working in a role crucial to fighting COVID-19.
On that basis, RVN’s and SVN’s are not key workers. This does not mean that your role is not important or that you are not valued. It simply means that we will not get priority for the limited places available in schools for frontline key workers such as those working within the NHS. Decisions are made on a school by school basis and if some have the capacity they may be able to accommodate your needs as an essential worker.
We are essential. Our practices should remain open, though in what capacity entirely depends on the team available. We must remain COVID safe and follow those protocols designed to minimise contact between staff and members of the public. We all need to play our part in limiting the spread of the virus.
The BVA and RCVS are working on assessing the current guidelines but have made clear that we will not be returning to emergencies only, as we did in March last year. That said, it’s important that we continue to use our clinical judgement and common sense as to what we can and cannot do.
With regard to managing work and childcare; as a mother of two young children I know firsthand the added pressure that this brings to an already challenging time. I can only urge you all to feel confident in discussing flexible working arrangements with your team and to be proactive in looking for tasks that can be carried out at home. Find a solution that works for both your family and your practice. Whilst both matter, nobody will expect you to be able to juggle both without some help and support. To discuss any HR concerns, our BVNA Advisory Service is available for all BVNA members. Vetlife is also available for anyone struggling. Please talk and be there to support one another.
This is a tough, but sadly inevitable start to 2021. The good news though is that unlike last year we know from experience that by pulling together, we can get through this just as we did before. Away from Covid-19 there is so much for our profession to focus on and to be positive about this year. A return to the life we all miss is creeping ever closer and I know that collectively, we will all look back with pride at the role we played in supporting pets and their owners during these most challenging of months.
Look after yourselves and look after your teams. We are all in this together.
Jo Oakden, BVNA President