The Disciplinary Committee of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has directed that a South Ockenden, Essex-based veterinary surgeon has her name removed from the Register for a series of clinical failures and failing to respond to reasonable requests from the regulator.
The hearing for Anne Mullen, who had four charges against her, took place from Monday 31 January to Monday 7 February. At the outset of the hearing, the RCVS made an application to the Committee to proceed in the absence of Anne Mullen on the basis that she had indicated both in email correspondence and telephone conversations that she would not be engaging with the disciplinary process.
The Committee granted this application on the basis that Anne had made it clear that her absence from proceedings was deliberate and voluntary, that there was no indication she would attend any future hearing if it was adjourned and that the charges were of sufficient seriousness that it was in the interests of animal welfare to proceed with them forthwith.
The four charges that were against Anne Mullen were that:
- She had failed to provide adequate information to her clients regarding arrangements for her practice out-of-hours/emergency care in April and July 2019
- In relation to her spay surgery on a Labrador named Cleo on 19 July 2019 she had: discharged Cleo when the dog was unfit to be discharged; had discharged her with an inappropriate/inadequate abdominal dressing; and had failed to provide adequate information to Cleo’s owners regarding complications from surgery, risk of post-operative haemorrhage and arrangements for out-of-hours care, as well as failing to make adequate clinical records
- In relation to surgery on an English Bulldog named Boycie on 15 October 2019 she had: failed to obtain informed consent for anaesthesia/surgery from his owners; failed to ensure the dog had adequate monitoring while recovering from anaesthesia; had failed to offer an adequate range of overnight care for the dog; left the dog alone overnight when he was not in a fit condition to be left; failed to provide information to his owners on post-operative care at home and out-of-hours emergency arrangements; and failed to make adequate clinical records relating to his treatment
- She failed to have Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII) or equivalent arrangements in place and/or failed to provide adequate details of it, failed to respond to requests regarding her continuing professional development (CPD) records and failed to respond adequately to reasonable requests from the College for details and documents regarding her treatment of Cleo and Boycie
In relation to the charges, the Committee heard evidence from a number of witnesses including the animals’ owners, an expert veterinary witness and College staff. In the evidence, the Committee heard that Cleo had died while undergoing treatment at another veterinary practice from complications arising from blood loss following Anne Mullen’s surgery on her. They also heard that Boycie had suffered brain damage and had lost his sight due to post-operative hypoxia, although he had otherwise recovered. Having heard all the evidence, the Committee found all the charges against Anne proven.
The Committee then went on to consider whether the proven charges, individually and/or cumulatively, amounted to serious professional misconduct. In doing so it considered the aggravating factors in this case, including that there was actual injury to animals, that the misconduct was sustained and repeated over a period of time, that the conduct directly contravened advice issued by the RCVS and the blatant disregard of the RCVS’s regulatory role. Furthermore, it also considered that Anne Mullen had previously been suspended from the Register by the Disciplinary Committee for a period of two months in April 2017 for failing to have PII arrangements in place.
It considered that there were no mitigating factors in the case and accordingly found serious professional misconduct in relation to all the proven charges.
The Committee next went on to consider what the most appropriate sanction would be for Anne Mullen.
Judith Way, chairing the Committee and speaking on its behalf, said: “Animal welfare lies at the heart of the veterinary profession. The Committee considers that [Anne Mullen’s] treatment of Cleo and Boycie constitutes a breach of this fundamental tenet of the profession.
“Other serious findings of disgraceful conduct against [Anne Mullen] are her failure to provide informed consent, failure to provide details about out-of-hours cover, failure to have in place Professional Indemnity Insurance, continuing professional development and failure to respond to the College’s request for information.”
The Committee considered that the conduct was so serious that the only means of protecting animal health and welfare and public confidence in the profession was to direct the Registrar to remove Anne Mullen’s name from the Register of Veterinary Surgeons.
Judith Way added: “The Committee considers that [Anne Mullen] has displayed a persistent lack of insight into the seriousness of her actions or their consequences. The Committee considers that [her] conduct raises serious clinical concerns, shows disregard of obligations in relation to out-of-hours care, indicates deficiencies in making decisions, demonstrates an obstructive attitude to her regulator and creates a potential risk to patients.
“She has not engaged with the regulator, she has not demonstrated insight into her misconduct, has learnt nothing from her previous suspension in relation to PII and has done nothing to remediate her disgraceful conduct. There is no evidence that [Anne Mullen] has complied with any of her obligations in relation to CPD.
“In the view of the Committee, if [she] were permitted to remain on the Register, there would be a serious risk of harm to animals. She has demonstrated a reckless disregard for the obligations of a registered veterinary surgeon.”
Anne Mullen has 28 days from being informed of the Committee’s decision to lodge an appeal with the Privy Council.