Is it time to shake up the Veterinary Surgeons Act? - Veterinary Practice
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Is it time to shake up the Veterinary Surgeons Act?

More than 50 years on, is the 1966 Veterinary Surgeons Act still fit for purpose?

Re-opening the Veterinary Surgeons Act might
have serious unintended consequences for both
practitioners and animal welfare. It could force many practices to withdraw from much of their pro bono work
because it would no longer be economically sustainable,
BVA members were told at their annual meeting in London
on 17th November.

Iain Richards of the Lakesvet Consultancy in Cumbria,
and a former SPVS president, argued that the Royal College
might be better advised to adopt the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach to the primary legislation affecting the UK
profession. He said that he was not persuaded by any of
the arguments put forward by those seeking to replace
the 1966 Act. He feared that this process would involve
veterinary surgeons giving up some of the tasks covered
by the Act’s monopoly powers to paraprofessionals and
that this would further undermine the economic viability of
practice, particularly those in low population density areas
like the Lake District.

“We should leave things as they are – as soon as you
open up this work to fringe groups, you provide them
validity and that will not help animal welfare. If that
reduces the profitability of practices any further, then
it will mean that we will have to give up free treatment
of wildlife casualties and we won’t be able to offer out-of-hours emergency care without payment in advance
as we do now,” he said, going on to emphasise that his
concerns were not about veterinary nurses and those
paraprofessional groups that already work closely with the
profession. There was no need for new rules to cover those
such as farriers and equine dental technicians as they were
already covered by existing legislation. But he warned that
there is a lot of ‘fringe nonsense’ out there with people
claiming to provide services for animals when they have no
logic or evidence base to support their claims. “I don’t care
about accusations of being elitist – I don’t see many people
out there that I would want to be part of our club,” he said.

Views from the RCVS and BVNA

Professor Stephen May, RCVS president and chairman of its
legislation working party, insisted that changes in the Act
were inevitable. The Royal College has progressed as far
as it can through using its charter powers and secondary
measures such as legislative reform orders to update the legal framework under which the profession currently
operates. There were some changes that needed to happen,
such as rules to create protection for the title ‘veterinary
nurse’ that would require primary legislation. At the same
time, it would be appropriate to establish rules that would
allow new groups to come under the veterinary umbrella
and to operate with appropriate veterinary supervision.

Samantha Morgan, senior vice-president of the BVNA,
said a protected title was the next logical step in the
evolution of the nursing profession and would be a vital
safeguard for animal welfare and the interests of animal
owners. She also felt it would help to ease the frustrations
that many RVNs feel about the lack of opportunity for
career development and better financial rewards in their profession. “We are not asking for a dramatic increase in
the range of surgical procedures that we are allowed to
perform – we don’t want to be minivets; we are just wanting
scope for career progress while retaining our nursing
focus,” she said.

Professor May added: “I am very proud of the Veterinary
Surgeons Act and the way that it protects animal welfare
and the public. But if that act didn’t exist and we went to
government now saying we would like to establish a self-
regulating profession which decides what tasks it carries
out, then I don’t think they would listen. But the Act does
exist and we have that monopoly on providing treatment
for animals and that is because we have the public’s
support. However, the world is changing, and this creates
challenges for us. We need to be thinking about how we can
reassure the public that we are a responsible profession by
ensuring that we conduct CPD and through the quality of
the service we offer. These are the things that are expected
of the various other health professions and we should be
considering our own arrangements.”

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