A Medicare-like scheme, mandatory pet insurance and allowing more skilled migration once border restrictions ease are proposals that may help the chronic veterinary shortage across the ACT, one practitioner has said.
Dr Tanya Caltabiano, who is set to open The Foreshore Vet in Kingston on April 27, said the industry's workforce issues brought by the increased pet ownerships during the pandemic that has led to some clinics changing operations was a complex situation.
"A Medicare-like system would have the same effect as it does for humans: protect you from huge bills because of subsidised treatment," she said.
"But I can't see that happening. Another scenario is mandatory pet insurance when a pet is purchased from a registered breeder.
"Then up to 80 per cent of bills would be covered by the insurance company and not the pet owner.
"This would help with the pay issues and keep passionate and skilled professionals in the industry."
Dr Caltabiano said the government could potentially help raise awareness through media campaign or by supporting the Australian Veterinary Association and non-for-profit groups to support vets who are struggling with their mental wellbeing.
"Or when international borders open up again, we can look at lobbying the government to allow more skilled migration," she said.
"There are so many jobs in our industry that can't be filled so if we can't do it domestically, why not look overseas?"
Asked about the challenges in opening a new clinic during a difficult period, Dr Caltabiano said she wanted to help ease the demand on other clinics.
She said it would be a new type of work environment that includes shorter opening hours and longer consultation times per patient to help with staff work-life balance.
Research by the Department of Employment in May 2019 found that employers continued to experience difficulty filling advertised veterinarian roles.
"Shortages have been present for three consecutive years and are widespread across geographical locations and veterinary specialisations," it stated.
Chief veterinary officer Dr Magdoline Awad at Greencross Vets, which has three sites in the ACT, said there was not one solution because the issues were multi-faceted.
"What would really help is an all-industry approach to collaboratively bring about positive change for the industry," Dr Awad said.
"We'd like to see more public awareness of the important work of veterinarians and their contribution to their communities - behind every pet is a dedicated vet team keeping them safe."
Dr Awad said COVID had forced challenges and changes on the veterinary profession across the world in such a short time.
Hackett woman Anna Schneider, who owns a three-year-old mixed-breed dog, George, said she was lucky because he had a "pretty strong constitution" and said she took proactive steps for his health to help vets.
"He has at least a walk a day. We make sure he's up-to-date with his immunisation," Ms Schneider said.
"It was tricky last year to have his immunisation because the vets had restricted numbers, so that was much harder than before."
She advised other pet owners to remain calm.
"These days pets sort of replace children for people, so they're more part of a family. As parents, they may be more sensitive to any niggle. But you get older and you realise they're pretty tough. Be a little bit calmer," she said.
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