What you need to know first
Before you raise your concerns with us, please read the following.
The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) registers veterinary surgeons to practise in the UK and regulates their conduct, primarily through the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct and through the investigation of concerns.
Our aim is to act in the public interest by safeguarding the health and welfare of animals and ensuring proper standards of conduct in veterinary practice.
There are many thousands of veterinary consultations taking place every day. Generally, all goes well, however, if things go wrong, you may wish to raise concerns.
VCMS or RCVS?
There are two ways to raise concerns: through the Veterinary Client Mediation Service (VCMS) or through the RCVS. The nature of your concern will determine which organisation can help you. Please note that the processes cannot both run simultaneously.
Concerns for the VCMS
VCMS can help you if your concern relates to:
- the service you have received from a veterinary practice
- the fees you have been charged
VCMS may also be able to help you if you are seeking:
- an apology
- a refund
- corrective treatment
- a goodwill payment
You can learn more about VCMS by visiting the Veterinary Client Mediation Service website, or by contacting them directly using 0345 040 5834 or [email protected]. Please note that the VCMS scheme is voluntary; this means that the veterinary surgeon must agree to VCMS’ involvement.
Concerns for the RCVS
The RCVS can only deal with the most serious concerns that affect a veterinary surgeon’s fitness to practise, i.e. their right to work. This would involve behaviour that has fallen far short of what is expected of a veterinary surgeon and would include, for example:
- Very poor professional performance where there are serious departures from the standards set out in the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct
- Fraud or dishonesty
- A criminal conviction or caution
- Physical or mental health problems affecting ability to work
We cannot, as part of our statutory regulatory process:
- fine a veterinary surgeon
- order a veterinary surgeon to carry out additional treatment that you think your animal needs;
- order a veterinary surgeon to apologise to you;
- order a veterinary surgeon to refund fees you have paid or to cancel fees that are outstanding;
- give you clinical advice about the treatment your animal has had;
- order a veterinary surgeon to pay you compensation, or help you to do this; or,
- resolve issues relating solely to negligence (read our note on negligence).
If you think your concern is for us, please continue to read the following information before completing our short enquiry form. Or, if you would prefer to discuss your concerns over the telephone, you can call us on 020 7202 0789.
Can I raise concerns about anyone working in a veterinary practice?
We can consider concerns raised about individual veterinary surgeons and registered veterinary nurses (RVNs). If your concerns relate to a veterinary surgeon, please view ‘Raising concerns about a veterinary surgeon'.
We do not register, or have powers to take disciplinary action directly against, other veterinary practice staff, for example, receptionists, animal care assistants or those supplying services. Some other staff may be regulated by other bodies, for example, farriers are regulated by the Farriers Registration Council.
Veterinary surgeons as employers may take responsibility for those acting under their direction or supervision. If you aren’t sure whether we can investigate the person you are concerned about, please contact us for advice.
Do I have to exhaust the complaints procedure at my veterinary practice before I can raise concerns with the RCVS?
No. However, in many cases, concerns can be resolved directly with the veterinary surgeon/practice. While we understand that this can sometimes be difficult, we would strongly encourage you to try and speak to the practice in the first instance to discuss any concerns that you have.
Please note that if your concern is dealt with by VCMS, rather than by us, in most cases you will need to have raised your concerns, in writing, with the practice first.
Can I raise concerns about something that happened a number of years ago?
Ordinarily, we will not investigate concerns that are more than two years old. If you wish to tell us about something that happened more than two years ago, you should explain to us why you have not raised your concerns with us before.
The matter will then be referred to the Chair of the Preliminary Investigation Committee (PIC) and the Head of Professional Conduct, who will decide if we can take it further.
Can I write to you anonymously?
Generally, we need to send to the veterinary surgeon a copy of your concerns and any supporting documents you provide to us.
We will need your agreement to do this and to reveal your identity. If you do not agree to this, then it is unlikely we will be able to progress matters.
If you have any worries about disclosing your identity then you should contact us on 020 7202 0789.
Can you stop a veterinary surgeon from working while you look into my concerns?
No – we have no powers of interim suspension.
A decision to stop a veterinary surgeon from working can only be made after there has been a Disciplinary Committee (DC) hearing.
The DC has a range of sanctions that it can impose – removal from the Register is only one of these.
What do I need to do to raise a concern?
You will need to complete our enquiry form, we will then contact you in order to discuss your concerns. You can also discuss your concerns with us over the telephone on 020 7202 0789. We will then assess whether your concern can be dealt with by us or whether it should be referred to the VCMS. If your concern is for us, we will ask you to complete a formal concerns form.
The information we need includes:
- details about you – your name, email address and telephone number;
- details about your animal;
- details of the veterinary surgeon you wish to complain about. If possible, please provide the veterinary surgeon’s full name and practice address. If you only have a partial name, then include this;
- details about what happened and the reasons why you are concerned;
- the outcome you are seeking by raising concerns.
If you need help completing the form, or are not sure what to include, then you are welcome to call us on 020 7202 0789.
We understand that when things do not go according to plan at your veterinary practice, especially where your pet has been euthanased (put to sleep), this may be a very difficult time for you. In such circumstances, you may find it helpful to contact the Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service.
What happens once I’ve submitted the enquiry form?
Once you submit the enquiry form, you should receive an acknowledgement to say that we have received it.
A Case Manager will then be assigned to you and assess whether your concerns would be best dealt with by us or by VCMS. The Case Manager will contact you in order to discuss their views.
If your concern is to be dealt with by us, the Case Manager will ask you to fill in a more detailed form and ask for your consent to share the information you give with the veterinary surgeon concerned, including sending them a copy of the concerns form and the supporting information. The Case Manager will also explain our process to you, which is explained below.
Stage 1 Preliminary Investigation Committee (Stage 1 PIC)
Concerns will be investigated by a Stage 1 PIC. The Stage 1 PIC will ordinarily be a quorum of three members: one veterinary surgeon, one lay member and one other.
Is the concern sufficiently serious to be passed on to a Stage 2 PIC?
If no we will write to tell you the reasons for this. The case may be closed with no further action, or closed with formal advice issued to the veterinary surgeon.
If yes, the case will be progressed to Stage 2.
Stage 2 Preliminary Investigation Committee (Stage 2 PIC)
The Stage 2 PIC will consider all the available information, and may request more details, before deciding whether to refer the case to Stage 3 — a public Disciplinary Committee hearing.
Is there a realistic prospect that the veterinary surgeon's conduct could affect their fitness to practise?
If no we will write to tell you the reasons for this. The Stage 2 PIC can close the case with no further action, or close the case and issue formal advice to the veterinary surgeon.
If yes the Stage two PIC will decide whether it is in the public interest for the matter to be progressed to Stage 3, or whether it should be referred to the Charter Case Committee.
The Charter Case Committee functions under the Royal Charter of the RCVS and can resolve cases where there is a realistic prospect of the concerns amounting to serious professional misconduct, but where it is not in the public interest for them to progress to a full hearing of the Disciplinary Committee (for example, because they are at the lower end of the scale in terms of seriousness). The Charter Case Committee can issue warnings to veterinary surgeons.
If the PIC considers that it is in the public interest to do so, the case will be progressed to Stage 3.
Stage 3 (Disciplinary Committee)
A Disciplinary Committee (DC) hearing is ordinarily held in public, similar to a court, to decide whether the veterinary surgeon is guilty of serious professional misconduct and must face formal action. Relevant witnesses may be required to attend to give evidence.
Is the veterinary surgeon guilty of serious professional misconduct?
If no we will write to tell you the DC's reasons for its decision.
If yes the veterinary surgeon may be struck Off the register; suspended for up to two years; or, given a formal reprimand. The case can also be held open for up to two years.
Can I see previous decisions?
All concerns raised with us are confidential unless and until they reach the final stage of our investigation process and are referred to the DC for a (usually) public hearing.
View the DC’s charges, findings, decisions and judgments from the past 3 years. You can also see warnings issued by the Charter Case Committee here [link].
Will you keep me informed about progress?
Yes. You will receive regular updates from your Case Manager, who you may contact at any time during normal office hours if you need any information or have any uncertainties.
For more detailed information, please view How we assess and investigate concerns raised against a veterinary surgeon.