Cheltenham-based vet suspended from Register for dishonesty over bTB testing
27 May 2021
The RCVS Disciplinary Committee has directed that a Cheltenham-based veterinary surgeon be suspended from the Register of Veterinary Surgeons for three months after it found him guilty of serious professional misconduct in respect of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) testing undertaken at a Cheltenham farm in his capacity as an Official Veterinarian (OV) in March 2018.
The Committee found his conduct to be dishonest, misleading and that it risked undermining government testing procedures designed to promote public health.
The hearing for Mr David Chalkley took place from Monday 10 May to Tuesday 18 May 2021 at a venue in Cheltenham and concerned three charges against him.
The first charge was that, in respect of Intradermal Comparative Tuberculin (ICT) tests which he was engaged to undertake at the farm on 5 March 2018 and 8 March 2018, he failed to identify some or all of the animals tested.
The second charge was that Mr Chalkley had certified that he had carried out ICT tests on 279 animals at the farm and recorded the results on the accompanying paperwork but had, in fact, not adequately identified some or all of the 279 animals and had fabricated the skin thickness measurements recorded for some of them. In addition, the charge alleged that Mr Chalkley’s conduct was dishonest, misleading and risked undermining government testing procedures designed to promote public health.
The third and final charge was that between 1 June 2011 and 1 September 2018, Mr Chalkley received payment of approximately £20,000 for ICT tests when, as a result of his conduct in relation to ICT tests at the farm, he was not entitled to such payment.
At the outset of the hearing Mr Chalkley, via his counsel, admitted the first charge, namely that he had not on 5 March 2018 and 8 March 2018 adequately identified some of the animals. On the third day of the hearing, during his evidence to the Committee, he admitted that his certification of the ICT testing was therefore misleading. He denied the rest of the charges including that his conduct had been dishonest and that it had risked undermining government testing procedures designed to promote public health.
In considering the charges against Mr Chalkley, the Committee heard that discrepancies regarding the tests that were carried out on the farm in March 2018 were originally raised by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), on whose behalf Mr Chalkley carried out ICT testing in his capacity as an Official Veterinarian.
When Mr Chalkley gave evidence during the hearing, he explained that he had taken over TB testing for the farm in 2008 and that working conditions on the farm had been difficult throughout the whole period 2008 to 2018. He stated that due to the harsh weather conditions of early 2018, TB testing was difficult, and that the farmer needed to complete the test by March 2018 to avoid a financial penalty.
“The Committee was prepared to accept that the respondent considered the risk arising from his actions as negligible. Nonetheless, in the Committee’s assessment a real risk existed due to the respondent’s actions and it was precisely the risk which the authorised testing procedure was designed to negate," Ian Arundale, Disciplinary Committee Chair
Mr Chalkley explained that one of the reasons for there being limited time available for him to carry out the test within the time required by the farmer was that he was due to provide veterinary cover at the Cheltenham races the following week and he was unable to find anyone else to cover the tests. Mr Chalkley also explained that during the tests on 5 and 8 March there had been limited farmhands available to assist in processing the cattle through the tests.
In the course of being asked questions by counsel for the RCVS, Mr Chalkley accepted that he had failed to identify some 45% of the animals he had injected on 5 March 2018 and had, in respect of each of the skin thickness measurements for those animals, randomly chosen a figure that he believed would be appropriate based on the breed, age and sex of the animal. The APHA guidelines state that specific measurements should be made and recorded for each individual animal using callipers.
Mr Chalkley said that he could not remember seeing the “pop-up” declaration which appeared when submitting the results to the APHA online and had never read it. He stated that he was not aware that he was making a declaration. However, he accepted that as an Official Veterinarian he was confirming that he had carried out the test properly. While he agreed that he knew that the test contained inaccuracies, he did not accept that he was being dishonest when he submitted the results.
Having considered all the evidence put forward by the RCVS and Mr Chalkley in his own defence, the Committee found that Mr Chalkley had acted dishonestly in deliberately choosing not to take the measurements on 5 March and had instead submitted fabricated alternatives, and so risked undermining public health by failing to carry out his duties as an OV.
“Honesty is the bedrock of appropriate certification and the Code and Guidance for the Disciplinary Committee is also unequivocal. Dishonesty in professional practice is always an extremely serious matter and the respondent’s responsibilities in the discharge of his functions as an Official Veterinarian were clear. On this occasion those responsibilities had been compromised," Ian Arundale.
The Committee also concluded that Mr Chalkley had been acting dishonestly, as he knew that he was submitting the test results as if they were the authentic outcome of a properly conducted test when in reality, they were no such thing. The Committee did not accept Mr Chalkley’s evidence that he was unaware of the declaration which accompanied the submission of the test outcome. The Committee therefore found both the first and second charges proved.
In respect of the third charge the Committee found that this was not proven noting that the RCVS had not disproved Mr Chalkley’s explanation regarding his reasons for returning the £20,000 in fees he had received for carrying out TB testing at the farm from the APHA since 2011.
The Committee then went on to consider whether the first two charges, both of which had been found proven, amounted to serious professional misconduct, either individually or cumulatively.
Ian Arundale (pictured), chairing the Committee and speaking on its behalf, said: “The Committee was prepared to accept that the respondent considered the risk arising from his actions as negligible. Nonetheless, in the Committee’s assessment a real risk existed due to the respondent’s actions and it was precisely the risk which the authorised testing procedure was designed to negate. The simple fact is the respondent could not be sure that each animal he assessed on 8 March 2018 had also been seen by him on 5 March 2018.
“However, the wider point with which the Committee was concerned related to the importance of any member of the profession or public being able to rely absolutely on the integrity of veterinary certification. Those parts of the Code and supporting guidance [concerning certification]… were unequivocal. It was very difficult to conceive of circumstances in which it could ever be justifiable to certify the outcome of a test which had not, in fact, been conducted in a way which was demonstrably valid and reliable. Such conduct was bound to be regarded as disgraceful by members of the profession and the general public.
“Honesty is the bedrock of appropriate certification and the Code and Guidance for the Disciplinary Committee is also unequivocal. Dishonesty in professional practice is always an extremely serious matter and the respondent’s responsibilities in the discharge of his functions as an Official Veterinarian were clear. On this occasion those responsibilities had been compromised.
“For these reasons, the Committee has come to the conclusion that the respondent’s conduct in relation to the facts found proved was disgraceful conduct in a professional respect.”
Having found serious professional misconduct in respect of the proven charges, the Committee then went on to consider the most appropriate and proportionate sanction for Mr Chalkley, taking into account aggravating and mitigating factors.
“The Committee considered that, having regard to the mitigating features which it had identified, a suspension order would be sufficient to send to the profession and the public a clear signal about the importance to be attached to accurate certification. The Committee considered that in the particular circumstances of this case, a period of three months suspension would be sufficient to achieve this objective.”
The Committee heard oral evidence in mitigation, including from a former colleague who had worked with him in practice since 2006, as well as receiving a large number of written testimonials from various sources that attested to his honesty, integrity, willingness to help others, and charitable work in support of animal welfare.
Mr Chalkley’s counsel, in mitigation, highlighted his long and previously unblemished career, and characterised the conduct as an inexcusable but explicable error of judgement that was entirely isolated and out-of-character. Mr Chalkley’s counsel added that he had not done anything that he thought was seriously wrong, and there was no evidence that any harm had been done and that any risk to public health was not serious.
The Committee accepted that the conduct was isolated and out-of-character and that, furthermore, Mr Chalkley had made early and frank admissions to the APHA and that he had displayed a degree of insight, although the Committee was less confident that he truly understood the seriousness of the potential consequences of his dishonest conduct.
The Committee took into account the aggravating factors, including Mr Chalkley’s breach of trust of his position as an OV, the undermining of the integrity of veterinary certification, dishonesty and the potential public health impacts of his conduct.
Ian Arundale added: “The Committee considered that, having regard to the mitigating features which it had identified, a suspension order would be sufficient to send to the profession and the public a clear signal about the importance to be attached to accurate certification. The Committee considered that in the particular circumstances of this case, a period of three months suspension would be sufficient to achieve this objective.”
Please note: this news story is intended to be a summary of the case to assist in understanding the case and the Committee's decisions. The full findings for the case can be found on our dedicated Disciplinary hearings page.