Head Veterinary Officer Simplyhealth Professionals, Past President of the British Veterinary Association
Having dropped a grade in my Maths A Level I nearly didn’t get into Vet School but, thanks to the University of Liverpool, I graduated in 2002. An inability to say no and always looking for new things has meant I have had a portfolio career, spending most of my time in various types of small animal clinical work, as well as management and consultancy. I completed a Graduate Diploma in Law in 2009/10 and was President of the Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons in 2012.
In 2015 I had the privilege of joining the British Veterinary Association (BVA) Officer Team and was President in 2016/17. The BVA work has been the highlight of my working career. It was humbling, motivating, and exciting to represent the veterinary profession and work with an amazing team at such an important time for the profession.
Ultimately though, I am happiest running the fells, biking the lanes and swimming in the lakes of Cumbria.
What are you most proud of, and why?
There are lots of things that I am proud of and most of these have been a collective effort. This includes the amazing work of the BVA team and Officers that I was involved in when I was there, particularly around the EU exit and collaborative research with the University of Exeter looking at workforce retention and recruitment, with a particular focus on gender discrimination.
With regards to a personal achievement that I am proud of – in the summer of 2014 I swam the length of all the lakes in Cumbria, including the 18 kilometres of Windermere. While I could not have done it without the support of others, this was a feat of sheer determination and commitment. Absolutely no technology was involved. It was just me, some friends and a lake for many hours of training in a stunning environment. I felt a real sense of ‘put your mind to it, focus, and you will achieve.’
What is the biggest change you have seen during your career?
The biggest change has been around the types and styles of ownership of veterinary businesses – particularly the growth of large multisite veterinary businesses, with many not being owned or run by vets. The speed of this change has been fascinating to watch. Having worked for Banfield in 2004, I saw a different way of doing things early on with many impressive things happening and with the veterinary team at the centre of them. However, in one sense, although the ownership style and money flow has radically altered, the way of doing business has not. There has not been a significant shift in how practices are run, how veterinary team employees work, and, while new services may be offered to clients, the manner in which they are offered has not changed. I am waiting for there to be positive innovation and disruption in how we offer our services and how our veterinary team work. I believe this can be a real, progressive and positive change for the profession and the animals and clients we serve.
What innovation has the greatest opportunity to change the health and welfare of animals?
One of the biggest ways we can improve animal health and welfare is through evidence based on sound scientific principles. Positive health and welfare outcomes must be evidence-based to have a meaningful, credible and long-lasting impact on animal health and welfare. While there are great initiatives taking data from practices to give us meaningful evidence, the majority of data points, particularly from practices, are not captured in a consistent and uniform manner. Adoption of innovation that allows for a sharing of common and consistent data that the profession could collectively own for the good of animal health and welfare (not financial benefit), along with the people power and funding to turn this into open-access evidence, could have a huge effect on providing more positive health and welfare outcomes for animals. Once this has happened, innovation, and the adoption of it, would allow for instant and easy remote access to this information and could have a really positive effect on animals’ health and welfare.
How could vets better meet the needs of today’s clients and patients?
I think we need to facilitate putting clients more in control of how they can engage with the veterinary profession and their animals’ treatment. We need to adopt innovation that makes things easy for clients – remote booking of appointments, access to their animals’ medical records, easy access points to communicate with the veterinary team, and easy access to evidence-based information tailored to meet the needs of their animals. Instead of being concerned about the rise of access to information, we need to embrace a clients’ interest in their animals and be there to help them navigate good information from bad. We need to be the hub of evidence that enhances the vet-client relationship. While the face-to-face vet-client relationship is invaluable, we also need to engage with ways of making sure we can continue that relationship remotely.
Are you a technophile or a technophobe?
I think I am a technophile in that I use and enjoy technology that enhances my everyday personal and work life. For me, the key point is that it has to positively enhance my life. Working this bit out is the tricky part – hours reading mindless stuff on social media is not an life-enhancement, but gaining immediate access to new evidence-based reports via social media is. As a profession, whilst we must engage with innovation and technology, we also need to look at outcomes and make sure these are evidence-based and positive.
Innovation and technology has led to amazing and positive advances, but we need to be constantly questioning. Our skills as scientists must always be questioning the evidence and the outcomes, and our unique skills in animal health and welfare must always be questioning the benefit for the animal especially from the animals’ point of view. While health benefits are absolutely important, around innovation, we must keep our focus on welfare. We must ask ourselves – Is this in the best interests of the animals’ welfare, even if it improves health? It strays into the “because we can, should we” argument and, while we improve our knowledge and adoption of technology, this needs to be coupled with ongoing education and discussion about the welfare and ethics of it.