Issue 29

The Verminator


Hello, I'm Andy, Clinical Risk Coordinator for Caswell Clinic. I've an interesting job as not all risks appear where you would expect to find them and I'd like to tell you a story that illustrates this very point.

Some years ago the Department of Health and the Royal College of Psychiatrists jointly decided upon a number of standards relating to MSU. "These standards", they announced, "will henceforth (yes, they said "henceforth") be adopted by all Medium Secure Units in England,". "And Wales," said the National Assembly, not to be outdone. "Furthermore," they added slyly, "teams from each Unit will visit other units to see how closely they stick to the standards"

So it was, that a team of staff auditors from across the UK came to be in Caswell Clinic, armed with a document containing all the standards, asking to see the inside of broom cupboards and other mysterious places and drinking large amounts of our coffee. After a day or two of this they called a meeting, looked us in the eyes and grudgingly said, "it's not bad I suppose but you'll have to do something about those gates!" There was a long silence before someone coughed and said, "S'cuse me, but did you say Gates?" "Yes, the gates, they'll have to be replaced." Within a short time, well, eight months, they were and that was when all the risk started.

You see, we started to get little visitors in the garden. Rabbits would slip under the new gate (the auditors, of course, had completely failed to spot this possibility) and chomp their way through patients' vegetable gardens, slipping away in the early morning mist, back out under the gates. "Something will have to be done," said someone, but they didn't say what it was so we asked the guys in the Estates Department if they had any ideas. "A skirt," they said. "Beg pardon?" we replied. "What you need, is a rubber skirt guv, along the underside of the gate to stop the rabbits gettin in, innit?" "Capital idea," we agreed, "go to it."

Moving at the speed for which the Estates Department is legendary, a rubber skirt was eventually attached underneath the gate. "Perfect," we sighed, "that'll sort the varmints," or so we thought. Instead of locking the rabbits out, we had only locked them in and the raids on the vegetable patch continued.

If anything it intensified as the rabbits proceeded to breed like..., well, like rabbits, I suppose. There were no predators you see, no fox or hawk to keep numbers down. They were everywhere, burrowing and stripping the bark off the apple trees.

"Pest control?" someone ventured. There was a collective inhale of breath, "they'll simply poison them," we said, squeamishly. "Humane traps then?" All eyes turned to the O/T department, "Humane traps," they repeated, "you bait the traps, catch the rabbits alive and unharmed and then release them outside the gate." "Brilliant," we replied. "Yes," they continued, "Andy can do it."

The traps arrived and I worked out how to operate and set them in the garden and then a rather wonderful thing started happening. I had imagined I was on my own with this one, everyone looking the other way whilst I did the dirty work - but no! Everybody wanted in.

I had to write a guideline on how to release the rabbits if I was off duty as staff and patients were worried about rabbits being left in traps for long periods of time. They needn't have worried, patients on all wards kept watch and I was informed in nano-seconds if a rabbit went anywhere near the traps. One of the secretaries designed a "Rabbitometer", a chart hung on my door on which I logged how many rabbits had been caught. The Clinical Director saw it. elmer fudd(1)
He cast a jaundiced eye over it but perked up when it was explained to him. Apparently one of the patients had complained to him about the rabbits and this would get him off the hook. In one case a baby rabbit (what is the correct term for a juvenile rabbit anybody?) was attacked by magpies and a patient cradled it and put it inside a trap for protection. On every ward I was greeted with enquiry, "how many now? There's two more in Penarth garden, you know." Patients I had seldom spoken to, or only nodded at in corridors would stop and ask and someone gave me the nickname "The Verminator." A staff colleague less kindly called me Elmur Fudd (Bugs Bunny's mortal enemy) and I was regularly asked if it was "hare raising". Patients would even arrange bait trails of cabbage leading to the traps. One morning I stopped a colleague who looked a bit glum and said, "come with me." We collected a trap with a rabbit in and released it outside the gate. As it skipped away my colleague smiled, "there's lovely" she sighed. We are on "Rabbitometer II Red Alert". The final score is 30 rabbits humanely caught and released. They're all gone now, with no sightings in over two weeks, which is a little bit of a shame really. It's the most pleasant risk I've ever managed. Th-Th-Th-Th-That's all folks!