The first and foremost reason for the scarcity of veterinary appointments is the shortage of veterinarians.
The demand for veterinary services has surged due to the growing pet population, increased awareness of pet healthcare, and the expansion of specialised treatments. Unfortunately, the supply of veterinarians has not kept pace. This imbalance results in overcrowded schedules, limited availability, and longer wait times for appointments. This is placing additional burdens on veterinarians with an increased risk of burnout or mental health disease.
Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation. Veterinary clinics faced increased demand as more people adopted pets during lockdowns. The rising cost of veterinary care compounds the issue. As veterinarians seek to provide the best care, diagnostic tools, equipment, and treatments become more advanced but also more expensive. This can deter pet owners from seeking regular check-ups or preventive care, further straining the system when they eventually need urgent assistance.
There has recently been a parliamentary inquiry into the challenges facing the veterinary profession in Australia, with hope that the situation can be addressed.
In the meantime, pet owners are often having to drive further afield to access veterinary care. Clients in western Sydney increasingly utilise services in the Blue Mountains, particularly the lower and mid-mountains. For instance, located in Hazelbrook, Selwood House Veterinary Hospital appears to be one of the veterinary practices to have weathered well the recent challenges in the veterinary sector. Although a relatively young practice, Selwood has grown rapidly to become a large team of six veterinarians and 14 veterinary nurses.
In order to help clients find suitable bookings, clinics like Selwood House have also introduced online booking systems, to create greater flexibility for clients to book times that best suit them. Some clinics have also adopted teleconsulting to help clients access veterinary advice out of hours, whilst other clinics or sole practitioners are offering a dedicated home visit service, particularly for pet owners who cannot transport their pets to a practice. Meanwhile, the number of practices offering after hours emergency services continues to decline.
Pending more widespread improvements in the availability of vet services, it is advisable to book ahead to ensure appointment availability, and where possible to try to identify any emerging health issues before they become an emergency.