Hendra Policy

Maleny Veterinary Services wishes to advise that as of the 1st April 2016, it will no longer offer veterinary services to horses that are not vaccinated against Hendra Virus.

For those of us who know us as individuals and as a team, you would appreciate our strong commitment to caring for our clients and their animals. Therefore, this has been an extremely difficult decision for us to reach. The two reasons for this decision are safety and insurance.

Since the introduction of the HeV vaccine in 2012, we have been tolerant of people’s stance on vaccinating. We have continued to treat unvaccinated horses, despite the strict and demanding safety requirements of Biosecurity Queensland. In almost every occasion, we have been able to identify a moment in time where we can find a level of exposure to hazard to ourselves or others involved with the horse. The risk may be minimal, but it’s a risk that we are not longer prepared to take. In almost every case, we have had clients neglect to, or outright refuse to follow very specific instructions for aftercare for the horse, whilst waiting for Hendra exclusion results to return (between 1-4 days). In addition to personal safety issues, any deviation from these safety requirements exposes the vet to the possibility of no insurance, and prosecution under Workplace Health and Safety laws.

No doubt there will be some who will call on our ‘moral obligation’ to tend sick and injured animals. This sentiment is not lost on any of us. None of us chose this career so we could refuse care to sick or injured animals. However, we have a greater obligation to go home to our families safe and well, and to encourage the community that we serve to do the same. I challenge those individuals – where is YOUR moral obligation to protect your horse, yourself and those you care about from something that is preventable?

In addition to the safety issue, the new Queensland Biosecurity Act states (broadly) that it is the responsibility of anyone that should reasonably understand the potential risks of a potential biosecurity matter do what they can to minimise those risks. A veterinary surgeon is therefore a person who would reasonably know that there is a risk, therefore has an obligation to minimise the risk. The current situation is untenable as any unvaccinated horse displaying any symptom must therefore be considered to be a biosecurity risk (notwithstanding that horses may excrete virus for 24-48 hours before displaying symptoms). At the moment, veterinarians are completely ultimately responsible for any outcomes regarding the treatment of an unvaccinated horse.

There are three veterinarians currently awaiting trial for attempting to ‘do the right thing by the horse’ and attend and treat an unvaccinated horse. In one case, the owner of the horse refused to allow the vet to send the Hendra exclusion sample away. In another, the vet is being prosecuted for supplying medication to a chronically unwell horse. These are situations that we have all found ourselves in on a daily basis.

The government has launched an investigation into the Hendra issue, particularly the issue of culpability (that is, who is responsible for damages in the event of a Hendra outbreak). We hope that common sense will prevail and owners will be held responsible for their own animal’s biosecurity. We would again encourage those who have chosen not to vaccinate to consider this with respect to exposing their unvaccinated horses to their family and friends, and when attending public events.

To those who will not vaccinate, we would encourage you to find alternative veterinary care for your horse. We will only attend your horse to vaccinate or euthanize. We will not dispense you drugs, we will not see your lame horse, we will not stitch your cut horse, we won’t attend your foaling mare, and so on.

To those who haven’t yet, please seriously consider starting as soon as possible bearing in mind that it takes six weeks from the first vaccination before a horse is considered ‘vaccinated’.

To those of our clients who have vaccinated, “Thank you”. We look forward to continuing to work with you to care for your horses.


Response to Our Hendra Policy

On behalf of all of us here at Maleny Vets, we’d like to thank you all for your OVERWHELMING support for our decision. As I said, it has not been an easy one and will continue to cause some upset.

From a personal perspective, I have read through many of the comments against our stance, and thank those authors for taking the time to offer their thoughts. I’d like to take a moment to respond to some of the general themes. [Continue Reading]