Decisions, decisions

Decisions, decisions

Whenever I hear of a medical profession’s so-called “Never Event”, I feel great sympathy, because in the nature of things every day brings so many events, certainly in the veterinary profession, that there is every likelihood that something could go wrong.  I used to reckon that in an average day I would make in excess of 40 vital decisions, anyone of which could end up, in a naughty world, with me being sued.  Over a long career I developed an interest in the science, or art, of decision making.

There are two types of decision, the Instant, which just cannot be delayed because of its inborn urgency.  Then there is the Delayed Decision where you have a certain leeway of time.  For these I would set myself a future date to decide; time to mull it over.  This might all sound pretty obvious, but not to some people.  They treat every decision as Instant.  Life has taught me to watch out for the clean desk man.  He takes every decision on the spot and refuses to change his mind.  I had a partner of this ilk.  He made his decisions then went off bathed in his righteousness, leaving the rest of us to face the consequences; and he had a habit of being out of touch.

You might think that in a well-run business nothing should go wrong.  Well I can tell you it can.  First there is the unexpected event which hits you.  Then there is what I call the Compounded Mistake.  This is when someone makes a minor laps in the norm, which likely could be laughed-off, but then someone else also makes a minor mistake which, combined, brings about disaster.  I give you an example.  One of our greatest nightmares was the escape of a patient.  To avoid this there were 6 doors between patients and freedom.  Every day the bin men collected some 6 or so bins put out for them.  One day the kennel girl responsible, forgot to do this.  So the bin men, ever helpful or perhaps thinking of their Christmas bonus, came in to find them and propped all the doors open as they went.  This shouldn’t have been a problem because all inmates were leashed or caged on the move.  But on this occasion the kennel girl was taking a long-stay boarder to the exercise run and he knew the ropes well and ran beside her, but on finding all the doors open he couldn’t believe his luck.  I always assumed everyone was doing their best and there was no witch-hunt to lay the blame so there was no point in a cover-up  I also insisted I was informed forthwith of any such situation.  If out I would say, “I will be there in 10 minutes.  I want everyone assembled”.  So I had all the facts before making any decision.

A difficult decision I made, apart from the purely medical, came about like this.  I was wakened about 1am by a PC on his round. “It looks as though you have had a break-in at your cattery.  I have just chased off some lads who had broken in”.  I was soon there and to my horror found it was the cat quarantine and four cats had escaped.  The young copper was very helpful and we soon found three cats.  They were terrified, had not even left the premises and were glad to be back in their quarters; but no sign of number 4.  Now came the decision.  By rights and strict regulations I should have informed the ministry.  No chance of that at 2am, and I also knew this particular cat had almost completed its 6 month incarceration.  Once before, after a Rabies scare in the kennels, MAAF had made every inmate add another 3 months to their time.  So I know what to expect.  Also MAAF made every owner bear the extra cost.  They always made it quite clear they would have no truck with such matters and seemed oblivious of the financial and emotional repercussions of their decisions.  So, next day, I thought, “That cat will turn up,” and it did.  About mid-day we had a call from Plymouth Argyle football ground.  “We have a very scared cat.  Is it yours?”  No one ever knew, apart from my staff.  Just as well, as it may have spelt the end of my career.

During the latter half of my time in Plymouth I was the longest surviving vet and sometimes other peoples’ clients, and even other vets, would come to me for advice before suing, or being sued, for negligence.  My advice was always forget it, because the only people to gain were the legal profession  It is a great source of satisfaction to me to think of the amount of money I have denied to the said profession.  As for myself, I am proud that only once was I ever sued, to no avail, but the details of that must remain secret for now. – Ken

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This article was written by
Ken Watson

Ken Watson's career as a vet started many moons ago, after he'd attended Royal Veterinary College at Camden Town. Ken came to work at Sidmouth in 1953 at Steele & Wardrop (now Ikin & Oxenham). Subsequently Ken set up his own practice at Plymouth in 1961 before retiring in 1992. His pieces graphically map out the changes that have taken place in the veterinary business over the years and also allow great insight into human behaviour.