Warwickshire-based veterinary surgeon suspended for false clinical records

19 October 2017

The RCVS Disciplinary Committee has suspended a Warwickshire-based veterinary surgeon for two months for falsely confirming the vaccination of a horse to a fellow veterinary surgeon, and for fabricating an entry in that same horse’s clinical records.  

The hearing for Elizabeth Gatehouse took place on Tuesday 10 and Wednesday 11 October 2017. There were two charges against her, the first being that, on 7 October 2014, she inaccurately assured another veterinary surgeon that she had vaccinated a horse against influenza and tetanus between 2 October 2013 and 7 October 2014 when she had not, and she subsequently failed to undertake adequate checks to confirm whether she had done so.

The second charge alleged that between 7 October 2014 and 31 December 2015 she dishonestly made a false entry in the same horse’s clinical records to cover up her previous inaccurate statement.

Ms Gatehouse admitted the facts alleged in relation to both charges and also admitted that in relation to the second charge she was guilty of disgraceful conduct in a professional respect. The Committee, having heard submissions from Counsel for the RCVS and Ms Gatehouse found her guilty of disgraceful conduct in relation to the first charge.

Under the first charge the Committee found that she had breached the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct for Veterinary Surgeons by not keeping clear, accurate and detailed clinical and client records, and by acting in a manner that was likely to undermine public trust in the profession.

They also considered that her falsehood was unpremeditated, and that the decision was made in a moment of panic. Ultimately, however, by claiming the horse was vaccinated to another veterinary surgeon and not taking the necessary steps to confirm this, she failed to put the welfare of the animal first, potentially endangering it and any other horses it came into contact with, as well as potentially jeopardising the position of the veterinary surgeon she confirmed it to.

Having found Ms Gatehouse guilty of serious professional misconduct in relation to both parts of the charge the Committee then considered its sanction against her. In mitigation the Committee considered the fact that she had been in practice for 22 years without any untoward conduct, the testimony of three witnesses who attested to her being an honest and trustworthy practitioner, and the fact that Ms Gatehouse was in a troublesome relationship with the complainant until June 2014 which led her to be reluctant to contact him to correct her initial confirmation.

In summing up Stuart Drummond, Chair of the Committee, said: “The Committee has considers that it is material to have regard to the general emotional state to which the Respondent was reduced by the controlling and debilitating conduct of her then partner when they were living together and the consequential loss of self-esteem and ability to stand up to him and his demands. The deleterious effect of an abusive relationship lingers after such a relationship ends.

“Taking into account this knowledge, the Committee considers that the period of suspension that would, in other circumstances, be entirely merited, can properly be reduced in this instance to reflect the fact that this veterinary surgeon would not have acted as she did during this period but for the fact that her judgement was adversely affected by her experience at the hands of her then former partner.

“The decision is that, whilst it is necessary, in order sufficiently to protect animals and the wider public interest, to impose a period of suspension from practice, that period can be reduced to one of two months. In so concluding the Committee wishes to make it clear that this decision reflects the special features of this case.”

Ms Gatehouse can choose to appeal the decision after a period of 28 days.

NOTE: This summary is provided to assist in understanding the RCVS Disciplinary Committee’s decision. It does not form part of the reasons for the decision. The Committee’s full findings and decision is the only authoritative document.

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