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Summary of March 2024 meeting of RCVS Council

22 March 2024

The March meeting of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Council, the College’s governing body, took place at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) on Thursday 14 March 2024. Items on the agenda included a consultation on the future of RCVS governance, greater definition of what is meant by a ‘non-practising’ member, and some key external events that had taken place during the week.

CMA Report

During her update to RCVS Council members, Lizzie Lockett, RCVS Chief Executive Officer, spoke about the fact that this had been a busy and difficult week for the veterinary professions with the publication on Tuesday 12 March of the Competition and Markets Authority’s report of its initial review into the veterinary services sector the day before Council. She said the RCVS welcomed the CMA’s recommendation on legislative reform of the veterinary sector as something the College had been advocating for many years, and the fact that the CMA’s recommendations in areas such as consumer choice and transparency  were aligned with existing RCVS guidance. However, she also acknowledged that there had been lots of challenging media coverage surrounding the CMA report, but which did not necessarily reflect its contents, and the fact that this had led to a spike of abuse and harassment of veterinary teams. In response the RCVS issued a further statement in support of vet teams and their commitment to animal health and welfare and public health across the UK.

EFRA Com hearing

Lizzie also spoke about a hearing of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, which also took place on Tuesday 12 March, about veterinary workforce. The RCVS had provided written evidence for the hearing with live evidence on the day being given by Malcolm Morley, Senior Vice-President of the British Veterinary Association, Royal Veterinary College Principal Professor Stuart Reid, Food Standards Agency Chief Executive Emily Miles and Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss. The hearing concerned topics covered by the College’s own Workforce Action Plan, such as increasing the supply of domestically-trained vets through increased funding of veterinary education, and better retaining the current veterinary workforce, as well as the state of supply of vets from overseas.  She said she had been pleased to hear a “clarion call” from all of those giving evidence that new veterinary legislation was now urgent, including a Statutory Instrument to improve access to the College’s Statutory Membership Examination for overseas graduates.

Public demonstration

A small public demonstration was held outside our offices on 7 March by a group, numbering around eight people.

We understand the group were demonstrating about alleged veterinary negligence and what they described as an unfair vets complaints system.

In updating Council about this demonstration, CEO Lizzie Lockett acknowledged the frustrations and upset of those animal owners who took part in the protest and who had lost their beloved pets under difficult circumstances, but reiterated that accusations of negligence are generally not within the regulatory remit of the RCVS concerns investigation process, or within that of other professional regulators.

Governance reform

In terms of items for decision, RCVS Council was asked to discuss a draft consultation paper on governance reform, including consulting on moving to an all-appointed RCVS and VN Council, instituting greater parity of numbers between lay and veterinary members of RCVS Council, the removal of Veterinary Schools Council-appointed members, and separating the role of Chair of RCVS Council from that of RCVS President.

A number of amendments to the consultation were suggested by RCVS Council members and, as a result, it was decided that an amended version would be brought back to Council via email for them to approve electronically. Time-permitting, it is hoped to launch the full, formal consultation later this spring.

Defining 'UK-practising' and 'non-practising'

Members of RCVS Council were also asked to approve a new definition of what activities a ‘UK-practising’ member of the profession can carry out, with a view to providing greater clarity on what non-practising members of the profession can and can’t do.

Those with veterinary degrees can choose to move to ‘non-practising’ status if they are no longer undertaking any veterinary activities, but still wish to retain their MRCVS status.

In introducing the paper, RCVS Registrar Eleanor Ferguson said that the common interpretation of non-practising was that it mainly prohibited those with the status from undertaking acts of veterinary surgery in the context of clinical practice. However, this still left significant areas of ambiguity, particularly in areas such as veterinary academia, industry and commerce, which the new definition of ‘UK-practising’ status aimed to resolve. After a discussion, Council members voted to approve the following definition of UK-practising status:

‘…practise or practising’ means (whether or not for remuneration) undertaking acts of veterinary surgery or undertaking any activity that is the sole preserve of a veterinary surgeon. Activities that are the sole preserve of a veterinary surgeon may include non-clinical work that a member undertakes in their capacity as a veterinary surgeon e.g. it could include work done by members employed by government departments or agencies, in academia, at research councils, or in industry and commerce. In other words, ‘practising’ is not limited to those in clinical practice, but includes members using their professional qualification where the role is open only to those with a veterinary medicine qualification.'

Council also agreed that the new definition would come into effect from 1 October 2024 onwards and that it would also publish additional guidance around non-practising members who are undertaking ‘one-off’ or occasional guest lecturing or leading continuing professional development (CPD) activities, as well as a clarification relating to activities undertaken by veterinary students.

Tim Parkin elected JVP

A series of internal elections amongst RCVS Council members for key positions in the RCVS Officer Team and committee chairs also took place during the public session of the March Council meeting. This included the election of Professor Tim Parkin, Head of Bristol Veterinary School, as the new RCVS Junior Vice-President. A separate press release about Tim’s election has been issued which can be accessed in our news & views section.

There were no changes to chairs of standing committees or to the Treasurer, and it was confirmed that current Junior Vice President, Linda Belton, will step into the role of President starting from the RCVS Annual General Meeting on Friday 5 July 2024. Professor Tim Parkin will also take up his new position from that date.

Registrar Eleanor Ferguson to retire

It was also noted that RCVS Registrar and Director of Legal Services, Eleanor Ferguson, will retire from the role this July, after almost 20 years at the College.

Her retirement was announced by RCVS CEO Lizzie Lockett and she received a standing ovation from the Council members who were present for her contribution both to the profession and the organisation. A press release announcing Eleanor’s retirement has been issued, and can be viewed in our news & views section.

The agenda and papers for the March meeting of Council are available to view in full on our Council meetings page.


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