Getting back to business at Campsie
Cooperation with partner CVS practices in the Omagh area has been one of the key factors in Campsie Veterinary Centre’s successful approach to the coronavirus lockdown. Clinical Director Cathal McNamee says sharing resources like this is one of the most attractive aspects of the corporate model.
Cathal McNamee has been working at Campsie Veterinary Centre since graduating from UCD in 1999, but during those years the business has changed and matured around him.
These days, Cathal (44), from Eskra, is clinical director at the practice which became part of the CVS Group in 2018. At 5000 sq. ft., the clinic is the biggest in the area by some way and the only purpose-built veterinary centre in the Omagh region.
Within the eight-vet practice, there is a strict segregation between large and small animal work and each discipline has its own dedicated veterinary team, but it wasn’t always that way. Cathal recalls that when he first arrived at Des Hamilton’s Campsie practice, which was located at that time on the Cookstown Road in Omagh, it was a very traditional mixed veterinary business:
‘Everybody did everything,’ he recalls. ‘You could be neutering in the morning and helping to calve a cow in the afternoon. But even then we knew the demand was there from the public who wanted their animals to be well cared for, and the farmers who really wanted vets who were engaged in farm work all the time and had that broader knowledge and experience of the job.’
Cathal, along with colleagues John Cassidy and Aidan O’Neill, became partners in the business in 2004 and from 2011 onwards, they were searching in earnest for a suitable replacement building that would allow them to redevelop Campsie with separate large and small animal departments.
Eventually, they settled on the current location on the Knocknamoe Road in 2016 and around £800,000 was invested to establish the new practice. Split across two levels, the veterinary centre has a separate farm shop and farm animal handling area. A dedicated small animal treatment centre incorporates a reception area and offices, three consultation rooms, a prep room, two operating theatres and separate kennelling facilities for dogs and cats.
Like all veterinary practices, Campsie was impacted dramatically when lockdown was announced in March. Before that, says Cathal, the business had been prospering and growing at a manageable rate, but coronavirus put everything on hold. Campsie is one of three CVS practices in the immediate area and when the lockdown took effect, much of the work those surgeries were doing was centralised at Knocknamoe Road.
‘Our immediate priority was to keep everyone safe which meant temporarily closing our doors to the public which is still the case now,’ says Cathal. ‘The farming side of things didn’t really change that much but the small animal side changed completely. We moved to dealing just with emergencies and doing tele-consults and we slowly opened up again from that.’
While revenue streams remained fairly steady during lockdown, the practice did incur additional costs, not least for extra nursing staff to assist with the new approach to consultations and more receptionists to help deal with a dramatic surge in telephone calls.
‘Although our doors remain temporarily closed, we are now starting to get back into more of a routine with things like vaccinations for small animals, alongside dispensing of repeat medications and food. Whilst we are still unable to allow clients into the building, this is something we will be considering over the next few weeks. Practice COVID-19 risk assessments will be carried out with our health and safety team and any necessary changes will need to be made to ensure the safety of clients and colleagues before we can invite clients back in,’ says Cathal.
Cathal recently took on the role of clinical director at sister CVS practice, Strule Veterinary Services in Omagh. Taking strategic decisions for the practice and dealing with problems as they arise does mean that Cathal has to spend more time dealing with people and less looking after animals. But he says that’s something that he’s always enjoyed and two years ago, he undertook an Advanced Diploma in Management Practice from Ulster University to help him develop his management skills further.
In the immediate future, Cathal says that the priority has to be practice staff and clients and ensuring that they are able to visit and work at the practice safely day-to-day:
‘Because of the space that we have available to us here, we’re able to manage that quite easily and when we do decide to let the public back into the building, it shouldn’t take a whole lot of reorganisation,’ he adds.
In the longer term, Cathal says that the partners’ aspiration is to work more closely with the other CVS practices in the area, such as Strule.
‘There are now quite a few of us locally and we do already work very closely together, sharing teams and rotas,’ he says. ‘I think this is the direction of travel for the industry now and I think these changes will continue to happen quite quickly.’
Cathal also says that he couldn’t be happier with the results of the decision to join CVS in 2018:
‘I’m very content with the way we are set-up here. It means we have more support for the vets and management and more help financially,’ he adds. ‘Our corporate experience has been very positive, we haven’t felt forced to do anything and we certainly feel more support as part of this bigger group. It means we can work more closely with our neighbouring practices rather than in opposition to them and I think that’s got to be for the best.’