The RCVS has announced further amendments to the planned timetable for its review of “under care” and 24/7 out-of-hours emergency cover in view of the government’s social distancing guidance, and is also looking to gather feedback on the provision of remote services during the ongoing pandemic.
Focus groups and social distancing
The main areas under consideration in the College’s wide-ranging review include the provision of 24-hour emergency cover and the interpretation and application of an animal being under the care of a veterinary surgeon. RCVS Council had agreed a new timeline and methodology for the review at its March meeting, which accounted for the project having a broader scope and increased complexity than originally thought.
A key element of the new methodology was an evidence-gathering stage comprising a number of focus group discussions taking place across the UK. The external research agency appointed to conduct the review had been due to invite a wide range of veterinary surgeons from across different sectors and veterinary nurses to give their views in groups of around 10 people. However, due to the ongoing government restrictions in place around social distancing, and that practice teams are currently working under extreme time pressures, the College has decided it will not be feasible to run these focus groups at the planned time.
The agency has advised the College that such face-to-face discussions remain the best way to gather the necessary quantity and quality of evidence from participants, and that it is not currently possible for them to replicate an appropriate research environment through online discussion groups or telephone interviews.
Nevertheless, the agency is continuing to explore suitable alternative options for holding such meetings virtually, and is expected to provide an update on these in due course. The College will then update and publish its revised timetable for the review accordingly.
Remote services during lockdown
In the meantime, the RCVS is aware that veterinary practices have been rapidly adapting to the extreme challenges of lockdown conditions over the past two months, and successfully continuing to provide the animal-owning public with veterinary services, a proportion of which via remote means.
To enable the profession to continue to provide veterinary care during this time, whilst safeguarding the health of their teams and their clients, RCVS Council in March agreed to temporarily allow veterinary surgeons to prescribe prescription-only veterinary medicines (POM-Vs) remotely, without first having physically examined the animal, subject to a number of conditions and safeguards being in place.
As this position is due for review by 30 June, it is important to collect data and feedback from veterinary surgeons based on their recent experiences of these temporary conditions, in order to determine whether these arrangements can continue beyond this date, with or without any additional safeguards.
The RCVS Council COVID-19 Taskforce has also agreed that as remote prescribing forms a key discussion point of the planned under care review, it would be valuable to gather any available relevant data at this stage to inform future discussions.
RCVS President Niall Connell says: “We recognise the current conditions that veterinary practices are working under in no way represent normal practice life. Most practices will not have been set up to offer remote services and remote prescribing in a way that they might have chosen, given sufficient time and appropriate detailed guidance, if indeed there are any future guidance changes after the review.
“However, we feel it would be remiss of us not to seize the opportunity arising from this current crisis to ask about the experiences – good or bad – of those on the frontline of clinical veterinary practice in providing remote services to their clients.
“Whilst this will be no substitute for the formal evidence gathered by the research agency in due course, whatever data and feedback we can collate from veterinary practices at this unique time for our professions will, I’m sure, be extremely valuable to our ongoing discussions.”
In the coming weeks, the College plans to commission an additional independent agency to prepare an online questionnaire to distribute to all UK-practising veterinary surgeons. Further details will be announced in due course.