Are horse owners asking too much of vets by expecting 24hr care? That is the concern being raised by industry professionals.

H&H vet Karen Coumbe believes that due to instant responses available from internet searches, some people expect an immediate response from their vet.

“Mobile technology means that the vet may be easily contactable, when previously one had to find a phone box in an emergency,” she said.

“The pattern of crisis calls has changed and has to be balanced with the service vets can realistically provide.”

Vets are obliged to give 24hr emergency care, depending on the situation, under Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) rules. The RCVS wrote an open letter in December inviting vets to share their views on their ability to meet this.

Tim Mair, chairman of the British Equine Veterinary Association’s clinical practice committee, thinks rural equine practices face specific problems.

“Equine vets often have to cover a large geographical area in remote areas they don’t know. This can lead to delays and safety issues for vets travelling on their own.”

The European Working Time Directive means that vets — as with all other professionals — are only required to work a 48hr week. However, many practising vets have signed an “opt out clause”. This means it is not unusual for vets who have been on call all night to work the following day.

“I think it is inevitable that sharing out of office hours between practices is going to happen,” Tim told H&H. “We need to find a way to reduce the time that vets are on call. The younger generation want a better work/life balance.”

A 3-day RCVS committee was scheduled to meet last week (26-28 March) to discuss the issues brought up by the responses.

Any conclusions will not be announced until later this month.