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RCVS reform complications

Reform of the RCVS may or may not benefit the interests of veterinary general practitioners, or the interests of the RCVS, or the perceived interests of the general public.

Dr. Hutber reported: "RCVS reform is not simplisitic, and whilst the RCVS portrays its Legislative Reform Order as progressive and useful, this remains misleading. It's mootable as to whether or not the RCVS are aware that they are misleading the public.

RCVS administrators enjoy a significantly comfortable working environment in London [Horseferry Road] and their employment is justified to the government by the 'number of successful prosecutions' they can achieve [PIC minutes and statements 2013]. In 2013 a Veterinary Defence Society (VDS) case worker pointed out that the RCVS felt it was lagging behind the General Medical Council in terms of bringing successful prosecutions, and reportedy the RCVS believed that more prosecutions were necessary to gain public confidence. Hence RCVS objectives and action points remain centred around successful prosecutions of veterinarians. Whilst regulation will continue to be important in the maintenance of good veterinary practice standards, an unchecked and excessively powerful regulator leads to increasing cases of miscarriage of justice and a waste of public funds [where each prosecution costs hundreds of thousands of pounds].

The RCVS states that its Disciplinary Committee includes lay members. What is not disclosed is that the lay members have associations with paraveterinary industries that favour complainants, and that RCVS administrators are lawyers rather than vets. A former President of the RCVS commented that invariably the RCVS Registrar and lawyers achieve their objectives, since at times of dispute the lawyers inform the RCVS veterinary officers that they do not understand the law. Why should the public be concerned over such matters? If the British public are aware that the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons is in fact run by lawyers with prosecution quotas, and that complainants are advantaged, then perhaps veterinarians should accept these circumstances as an occupational hazard?

Unlike the UK police force, the RCVS complaint system does not impose penalties where complaints are lodged for financial gain, personal disputes, local commercial or local political objectives, etc. The NHS increasingly complains of abusive clients and refuses to treat them. However, such individuals remain a small minority. The veterinary industry is not government funded and relies upon strong relationships with the British public. It is therefore unfair that veterinarians should not be protected against complainants holding prejuidicial agendas. The RCVS lawyers will not protect RCVS veterinary members, since the former are in post and salaried via complainants. Who then will fairly protect UK veterinarians?

It could be argued that vets on the Disciplinary Committee will defend their colleagues but in reality, the situation is not straight forward. Mark Elliot complained of administrative irregularities during the 2006 RCVS Council elections, concluding that his stance as a homeopathic vet led to his candidacy being targeted unfairly by RCVS administrators. RCVS lawyers control the RCVS administration. Mark was later successful in being elected onto RCVS Council and was appointed as the Chairman of the Preliminary Investigation Committee [PIC]. That was a shrewd move for the RCVS administration since it left Mark Elliot in a position of newly-found elevation amongst colleagues. [Mainstream UK veterinarians remain skeptical of homeopathic remedies]. The PIC Chairman rubber stamps recommendations when RCVS lawyers indicate that they can successfully prosecute a veterinarian. A PIC recommendation passes a case to the Disciplinary Committee, which historically upholds the majority of decisions made by the PIC. Mark Elliot was in post for my case. I phoned Mark to inquire why the RCVS was charging me for circumstances that resulted from supersession and wondered why the RCVS had not taken action against the supersession? Mark was unfortunately not able to speak with me but a RCVS administrative lawyer later returned my call. Rightly or wrongly I concluded that Mark Elliot was comfortable in both 'running with the hares' and then 'hunting with the hounds' to personally preserve a position of strength.

In 2013 the Disciplinary Committee included a couple of former RCVS presidents. Some former presidents have supported the cause of RCVS reform, whilst others have sought to maintain the status quo, under the rationale that if RCVS rules and regulations were acceptable during their working lifetime as a practitioner, they should also remain relevant in the current era: for example, the requirement for all practices to provide 24 hour emergency cover continues as a compulsory service, although in recent years practitioners been able to circumvent the issue by buying in specialist out-of-hours services. Presidents who favour the status quo dislike political reformers and act to protect their position. My personal position was one of advocating political reform.

RCVS reform requires a truly independent regulator, which includes a separation of the regulation from administration, and legal consultation should be outsourced from the regulator.