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RCVS statement on Daily Telegraph article

5 March 2003

The RCVS has the following comments to make on the article entitled “Vets accused of appalling cruelty”:

 “Action Group against the RCVS”

Representatives of the RCVS met members of the Action Group – including Janet Mahoney and David Baines - when the 7 or so members of the group protested outside the RCVS in the summer of 2002.  Since then the group has teamed up with Animal Aid and organized a web site petition on the Animal Aid website. 

We are sorry that a number of complainants to the RCVS do not feel that they have received justice - nevertheless we are confident that we have done all within our power to ensure that all complaints have been investigated fully and fairly in accordance with our procedures.  It is also perhaps worth noting that all surgery to animals (and humans) involves an element of risk and an unexpected outcome, including death, does not necessarily mean the vet was at fault. 

In all of the cases referred to in the article the College has investigated the issues fully, taking statements from the complainants; obtaining responses from the veterinary surgeon involved and visiting the practice as appropriate.  One of the cases was referred to and heard by the Disciplinary Committee and although the veterinary surgeon was not struck off he was severely criticised by the Committee.   The other cases were considered by the Preliminary Investigation Committee.   The veterinary surgeon involved in one of these cases was referred to the Disciplinary Committee on other charges last year which resulted in an order that he should be struck off. 


Disciplinary Process

The RCVS is accused of running a “cosy, secretive closed shop” however: - 


1.         Disciplinary Committee

The RCVS Disciplinary Committee (12 members) is made up of veterinary surgeons (9 members) and lay members (3 members), so 25% of the Committee are not veterinary surgeons.  The Disciplinary Committee sits with a Legal Assessor who ensures that it follows strict procedures – as would apply in a court of law.   In effect it is an independent judicial body.  Information on the procedures is available from the RCVS.

The RCVS disciplinary procedures are as transparent as they reasonably can be - with disciplinary hearings open to the public and press releases issued after each hearing (see our website ). 


2.         Preliminary Investigation Committee

It is for the Preliminary Investigation Committee to consider complaints and to decide whether or not a case is sufficiently serious to refer it to the Disciplinary Committee for a formal hearing.    At the investigation stage confidentiality is maintained and names of the complainant and veterinary surgeon are not revealed.  

There are 3 lay observers – non-veterinary surgeons – who sit with the Investigation Committee who ensure that proper and thorough investigations are undertaken as appropriate, and that at all times the RCVS acts fairly in the interests of the public and the profession.  The 3 lay observers not only see all the papers considered by the Investigation Committee but may also call for and review any complaint file. The Lay Observers report to Council each year (the reports are on the website )

Investigations include visits to witnesses, taking of statements, interviews of veterinary surgeons and visits to practices, as appropriate. 

In cases which are not serious enough to refer to the Disciplinary Committee, the Investigation Committee may give advice to veterinary surgeons where there is concern about a veterinary surgeon’s conduct. 


Changes Planned

RCVS recognises there is a case for certain changes and has just issued a consultation    document on the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 in advance of a full public consultation by DEFRA planned for later this year.  The composition of Council and Disciplinary Committee are issues open for discussion.  The RCVS is also suggesting a number of changes to the disciplinary process, particularly to deal with complaints, which at the moment fall outside its remit.

Currently the RCVS only has the power to deal with serious misconduct, for which the sanction is to strike off or suspend the veterinary surgeon, thus preventing him or her from practising.  Many of the complaints received are less serious than this, although equally distressing to animal owners.  There are also cases which are properly matters for the civil courts rather than the RCVS.  The RCVS would like to have power to deal with these cases and to be better able to respond to the concerns of animal owners.  These are some of the reforms which have been suggested by the Action Group.


Transparency and Accountability of the RCVS Complaints Process

It is the role of the RCVS and in particular its disciplinary arm to ensure that standards within the profession are maintained.  It is not in the interests of anyone concerned to let standards fall below a recognised level - whether those making the decisions are vets or non-vets. 

From March 2001 - 1 April 2002, the RCVS received 717 complaints out of 20700 vets of whom 11549 were in general practice in the UK.  For the year 31 March 2000 - 1 April 2001, we received 789 complaints out of 19638 vets of whom 11007 were in general practice in the UK.  The overall trend with complaints is that they are coming down.

In the past 2 years 12 cases have been heard by the Disciplinary Committee and in 10 resulted in adverse findings and orders.  50% of these cases involved the clinical treatment of pets; the others relating to false certification and other matters. 


Please visit the links below to find out more on issues such as;

The limited extent of the RCVS remit on veterinary fees

The RCVS complaints procedure

Disciplinary cases

Reports to RCVS Council from Preliminary Investigation Committee giving examples of decisions

Lay Observers' reports

Read more news