Source: Vet Record September 29, 2012
The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) is the regulatory body for veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses in the UK and acts as the interface between the public and the profession.
Basically, the College’s role is to ensure that the public and their animals receive a good, honest and competent service from the veterinary profession.
This is achieved by:
Maintaining standards of veterinary education
Dealing with issues of professional misconduct
Maintaining the Register of veterinary surgeons eligible to practise in the UK
Protecting the role and title of ‘Veterinary Surgeon'
These are responsibilities set out under the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966. The Act also specifies the circumstances in which procedures can be delegated to veterinary nurses and others.
The RCVS also has a ‘Royal College’ role, by virtue of its Royal Charter of 1844. This allows it to offer postgraduate veterinary and veterinary nursing qualifications.
For information about current activities, read RCVS News online.
The best way to make sure you stay up-to-date about what’s going on at the College is to sign up to its free e-newsletter.
One of the College’s roles is to maintain standards of professional conduct within the veterinary profession and for those veterinary nurses who join the non-statutory VN Register. In order to maintain standards, veterinary surgeons and registered veterinary nurses have their own Guides to Professional Conduct to follow.
The first thing that springs to many minds in relation to regulation is ‘striking off’. Yet the process of regulation starts with setting standards and offering advice, and very rarely leads to this most severe sanction.
Gordon Hockey, Head of Legal Services/Registrar at the RCVS advises: "Although the best known sanction available to the Disciplinary Committee is to remove a vet from the Register, it can also suspend a veterinary surgeon's name for a period of time, after which that vet is automatically restored, or reprimand a veterinary surgeon, depending on the particular factors of the case. The line between professional misconduct and negligence is not always a clear one, but, in general terms, a single mistake, even one that means the death of a much loved pet, or financially valuable animal, is not usually a matter for the DC. Similarly, the 'Code of Professional Conduct' and it supporting guidance offer a benchmark, not a rule book, and a single breach of the code, unless extremely serious, is unlikely to result in a DC hearing."
The College also issues Advice Notes on particular issues – from the definition of ‘negligence’ through to the use of artificial insemination in dogs. The list of Advice Notes is updated several times a year.
If you can’t find the answer to your query in the relevant Guide or the Advice Notes, you can contact the College’s Advice Line on 020 7202 0729 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The RCVS handles disciplinary hearings against veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses.
If a complaint is made against you, it is really important to reply to the initial letter from the RCVS promptly and carefully - you are usually required to reply within 14 days. If you don't do this, this may in itself be a disciplinary matter. However, you may be able to ask RCVS for more time if, for example, you want to check some facts with a colleague who is away. We suggest the following order of action:
Your professional indemnity insurer may also cover you in the event of RCVS disciplinary action. If so, it is important to contact them at the earliest opportunity and take their advice as to the wording of your response.
The Veterinary Defence Society Ltd do provide such cover. If you haven't got this cover you may need to get your own legal advice.
Go to the RCVS Website and do your homework. Look at:
Your response may be presented in evidence at any subsequent hearing so think it through carefully. An ill-thought-out and incautiously worded response sent in haste may get you into deeper water.
The RCVS case manager who is dealing with your complaint can explain the procedure, how long the complaint may take to be resolved and whether there have been any previous similar cases and if so what the outcome was in those cases.
The RCVS Health Protocol introduced in 2010 and the RCVS Performance Protocol introduced in 2012 mean that not all serious complaints have to be sent to the Disciplinary Committee if there is no public interest in doing so.
Instead medical treatment can be sought for medical problems and those with performance issues which could result in removal from the Register can seek help, if appropriate, rather than be referred to the Disciplinary Committee.
Similarly, although few complaints are received about elderly practitioners, it may be that voluntary removal and retirement is an option in some cases.
You should talk to your insurance provider and the RCVS if you think any of these apply.
The RCVS's complaints procedure seeks to make sure that only those fit to practise as veterinary surgeons are allowed to do so.
The College can only respond to complaints about a named individual that fall within the scope of its jurisdiction. In common with other regulatory bodies, the College’s powers are limited to cases in which it is alleged that a member is guilty of serious professional misconduct or has been convicted of a criminal offence, i.e. where there is evidence of impaired fitness to practise.
The College is not able to adjudicate on allegations of professional negligence – see Advice Note 2.
The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 provides for a Preliminary Investigation Committee to oversee the investigation of complaints and this Committee may pass a complaint to the Disciplinary Committee for a formal and public hearing if appropriate.
The majority of complaints do not result in a formal hearing and in such cases the RCVS sets out its view of the matter to the veterinary surgeon and complainant. If there are any areas of concern, advice may be given to the veterinary surgeon concerned.
Detailed information about the complaints process, including the form that complainants are asked to complete, can be viewed on RCVS on-line and on the Complaints and Disciplinary Matters page of the Guide to Professional Conduct.
Should you have any questions about the process or would like to discuss a complaint you believe has been levelled against you, please contact the College on email@example.com or 020 7202 0789.
When the VBF commissioned focus groups in 2010 to evaluate this website, the fear of the RCVS felt by ordinary veterinary surgeons was a noticeable finding. If you are distressed by the allegations made against you or you think you may need confidential help with addictive and mental health issues – here are some support systems for you.
Vet Helpline provides empathetic discussion of problems with someone who has experience of the veterinary profession. If you wish, it is possible to arrange for you to have regular contact with one nominated person at Vet Helpline who will be available to offer support to you while you go through the RCVS complaints procedure – local call rates apply, 24hr rapid response answer phone.
The Veterinary Surgeons’ Health Support Programme offers completely confidential professional treatment and advice on alcohol, drugs, eating disorders and other addictive and mental health issues.
The Samaritans are available 24 hours a day to provide confidential emotional support for people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which may lead to suicide.
For general enquiries, please contact:
Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons
62-64 Horseferry Road
London SW1P 2AF
Tel: 020 7222 2001
Fax: 020 7222 2004
A list of departmental contacts for specific enquiries can be found on www.rcvs.org.uk/contact