A YORK-based veterinary group closed a quarter of its 500 small animal, equine, farm and mixed sites during March, April and May.

VetPartners consolidated resources as staffing levels fell due to protecting vulnerable employees in self isolation or those who had to stay at home due to childcare.

But chief executive officer Jo Malone believes the veterinary industry will emerge stronger after showing great adaptability and resilience during the crisis.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a drastic economic impact on veterinary practices, with a survey by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) earlier this summer revealing a reduction in turnover of 51 per cent to 75 per cent at the height of the crisis.

Most VetPartner practices saw a reduced caseload, including routine appointments like vaccinations, with most clinics seeing only emergencies and urgent cases.

Vets, nurses and receptionists have had to adapt to different ways of working and treating animals while social distancing, to deal with an increase in cases as services start returning to normal.

Mrs Malone, a vet, who established VetPartners in 2015, said: “As a profession, we have learned how to be adaptable and how to handle a crisis during unprecedented times for everyone. As we have never experienced anything like this before, we had to find ways to continue working while keeping team members safe. The safety, health and wellbeing of clients, pets and our teams had to be the key priority.

“I am so proud of our profession, which has come through a challenging time after being thrown into something we have never experienced. There was a huge responsibility ensuring employees were safe, creating new policy documents when Government guidance changed so many times, and issuing guidance to practices from our governing body.

“We have proved that using other means of communicating with clients, including video and telephone consults, can be effective, while it has been so important to work as part of a team. While it was only farm vets who were classed as key workers, the profession has played a key role during the pandemic to ensure animals could continue to receive emergency or urgent treatment.

“The majority of practices saw their revenue half during the crisis and we can not underestimate how worrying that was, but we know the volume of work is there.

"Clients are keen to come back to practices, and, while progress was slow initially, we are seeing revenue increasing as routine work increases.”

Mrs Malone believes the pandemic could herald further change in the veterinary industry, both in the UK and in Europe, with increased demand to be part larger groups like VetPartners, whose growth is backed by leading international investment company, BC Partners.

VetPartners expanded into Italy in 2019 and there will be further growth in both France and the UK in coming months, but the after-effects of the pandemic are expected to accelerate further consolidation of the sector.

Mrs Malone said: “Being part of a big team has helped us to come through the pandemic because we have been able to pool knowledge and resources across the group. What has been so great to see is practices pulling together, especially on a local level, where they could support each other.

“We are being contacted by more and more practices who, having experienced the Covid-19 crisis, realise the value of support to keep on top of all the latest guidance and having back-up during challenging times.

“What really helped us was being able to respond quickly and get organised because our practice teams were already open to change, with shared values of looking after each other, supporting each other and working in a collaborative way.”