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PI Committee responds to lay observers' report

5 November 2004

The Lay Observers' 2004 report to Council set out the concerns and observations of the three Lay Observers who sit with the Preliminary Investigation Committee (PIC). At its meeting on 4 November, Council discussed PIC's response to this report. 

Dr Jerry Davies, Chairman of the PIC, introduced the committee's response drawing attention to certain aspects, including the difficulty of separating allegations of negligence from allegations of serious professional misconduct questioning a veterinary surgeon's fitness to practise veterinary surgery. In their report, the Lay Observers were pleased that PIC responses to complainants highlighted the possibility of negligence in appropriate cases, but sensed frustration on the part of complainants that the RCVS had no power to take action or provide technical expertise in negligence-only complaints. The PIC acknowledged its limited powers and accepted that there was difficulty convincing some complainants that the RCVS could not adjudicate on a complaint when any alleged negligence, even if proved, would not question the veterinary surgeon's fitness to practise [Such complaints may be closed or closed with advice to the veterinary surgeon].  

As to the extent of the overlap between negligence and misconduct, the PIC's report stated that the Disciplinary Committee (DC) Inquiry into Mr Swift in 2001 had indicated that any alleged negligence must be extremely serious to question a veterinary surgeon's fitness to practise, although later Inquiries, particularly that into Mr Swift in 2004, might have affected this view. The PIC questioned why complainants were not more prepared to pursue negligence cases in the civil courts, suggesting this might be because court action, or even obtaining an expert's report, was prohibitively expensive or disproportionate to the losses incurred. The report indicated that RCVS did not propose to adjudicate on alleged negligence even under a new Veterinary Surgeons Act. 

Dr Davies also drew attention to PIC's request for RCVS Advisory Committee to consider whether full copies of veterinary clinical records should be available to clients. He said the RCVS Guide to Professional Conduct encourages veterinary surgeons to provide explanations to clients when things have gone wrong, but some clients still want a copy of the clinical records [Only part of the practice records is likely to be subject to disclosure under the Data Protection Act 1998]. 

There were expressions of support for staff of the Professional Conduct Department who the Lay Observers reported had been "subjected to unpleasant personal harassment from parties to a complaint". 


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