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Canberra Veterinary Emergency Services staff issue plea for ’empathy and patience’ amid rise in abusive clients


A Canberra veterinary clinic has penned an open letter pleading for “change and awareness”, after a rise in abusive clients using their service.

Staff at Canberra Veterinary Emergency Services (CVES) in Gungahlin say they have experienced “a noticeable increase” in abuse in the last few months, with customer care managers, nurses, and veterinarians alike targeted.

“Our team has been experiencing an increase of abuse and aggressive behaviour from our visitors and clients,” the letter, shared on social media overnight, states.

“Yelling, foul language, hostility, mistreatment of others, intimidation, disrespect, and even threats. We have had to go through it all.

“Don’t mistreat us. Don’t abuse us. Don’t yell at us. Don’t disrespect us. Choose to be kind and patient, just like we are kind and patient to your animals in their time of need.”

CVES director Frazer Boneham said he and his staff were prompted to publish the open letter after experiencing verbal abuse “multiple times a night”, and an escalation in threats of violence and death threats.

“Our staff in general are fairly resilient, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not taking a cumulative toll on their wellbeing,”  Dr Boneham told ABC Radio Canberra.

“Challenging client interactions are repeatedly cited as a reason for industry participants having poor mental health and suffering burnout and leaving the industry.

“It’s obviously really upsetting for those involved.”

Only emergency clinic open

CVES provide a 24 hour emergency service to Canberra and surrounds on weekends, and it is open from 6pm to 8am every week night.

However, the open letter highlights that, due to the “economic climate”, CVES is often the only emergency service open in the ACT.

“Compared to last year, fewer of our colleagues are able to keep their doors open after hours,” the letter states.

“While we sincerely want to help everyone and make a difference, we can’t always cope with the level of demand we have to face. We depend upon everyone’s patience and consideration in such situations.”

Dr Boneham acknowledged that clients presenting to CVES may experience long wait times due to the high level of demand, which is “not ideal for anyone”.

However, he said this circumstance is “not unique in Australia at the moment”.

“There is a fairly crippling shortage of veterinarians across the country,” he said.

“For us, in practise, what that looks like is that some nights, we will have people with low triage cases that might wait four or five hours to see a veterinarian.

“While on one level you can understand a really emotionally charged response to the situation, obviously, we really can’t tolerate any form of workplace aggression or violence. It really does impair our ability to do our jobs effectively and sustainably.”

To enhance staff safety, Dr Boneham said closed circuit security cameras have been installed at CVES, and a lockdown procedure has been implemented.

Staff have also been taught how to de-escalate a situation, and clients have at times received a letter requesting that they seek veterinary care elsewhere in the future.

However, on occasion, police have been called in to assist.

‘We are in this together’

The open letter says that, “just like our veterinary care makes a difference, your actions make a difference as well.”(ABC News: Sophie Kesteven)

The open letter, which amassed over 1,500 likes in the first 12 hours after being published, also urges clients to consider the high suicide rate in the veterinary industry — which is four times higher than any other occupation — and encourages compassion when dealing with an emergency situation.

“We fear the impact of this [behaviour] is not fully understood,” the letter reads.

“You don’t hear how our client care representatives ‘have to take five’ to go and cry in the staff room because someone yelled at them over the phone again. You don’t see how our nurses are afraid to open the door to clients in the middle of the night because they’ve been through so much abuse already. You don’t get to know how many veterinarians leave the industry because they cannot deal with emotional manipulation and abusive clients anymore.

“With this letter we are trying to deliver one simple message. We are in this together and we are here to help.”

Dr Boneham told ABC Radio Canberra that his “plea would be for empathy and patience”.

“The environment we’re working in ordinarily is fairly emotionally charged, and so I think that’s probably been one of the contributing factors for seeing an increase in tension in our consulting rooms over the last couple of years,” he said.

“Our people are obviously doing everything they possibly can to help, some nights with fairly limited resources. And so, just please be respectful of our team.”



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