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Position agreed on 24-hour emergency cover

9 March 2005

At its March 2005 meeting RCVS Council agreed to retain the general requirement for veterinary surgeons to make provision for 24-hour emergency cover.

Council accepted the Advisory Committee's recommendation that veterinary surgeons must, if in practice, take steps to provide 24-hour emergency cover with guidance on the reasonableness of the steps to be taken and the adequacy or nature of the cover detailed in the Annex to the Guide to Professional Conduct. This will allow the Preliminary Investigation Committee, when considering any complaint, to take all the circumstances into account.

The new guidance provides:

  • That veterinary surgeons on duty providing 24-hour emergency cover, must:

    • not unreasonably refuse to provide first aid and pain relief for any animal of a species treated during normal working hours; and
    • not unreasonably refuse to provide first aid and pain relief for all other species until such time as a more appropriate veterinary service accepts responsibility for the animal; and
    • not unreasonably refuse to accept responsibility for an animal from a colleague, in order to provide first aid and pain relief for that animal;
  • Clients of another practice may be directed to their own practice for their animals' emergency treatment, at least in the first instance.  But, immediate first aid and pain relief must be provided if, for whatever reason, the other practice's client cannot contact his or her usual veterinary surgeon;
  • Written information should be provided about practice arrangements, including provision, initial cost and location of the 24-hour emergency service, and information on the care of in-patients;
  • Confirmation that, in an emergency, immediate first aid and pain relief should take precedence over payment of fees.
  • Any veterinary surgeon accepting a referral must make reasonable provision for twenty-four hour availability of advice for the referring veterinary surgeon;
  • Revised guidance on attending away from the practice premises; the decision to attend away from the practice is for the veterinary surgeon concerned, having balanced the needs of the animal against relevant health and safety issues for practice personnel;
  • Confirmation that 24-hour emergency cover to be provided by, or in conjunction with, one or more other veterinary practices;
  • Limited service providers, such as vaccination and neutering clinics must make provision in the same way as other veterinary surgeons in practice.

The revised guidance is now College guidance and has been incorporated into the online Guide to Professional Conduct. It will also be notified to the profession as part of next year's Guide update.  

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