At its September 2022 meeting, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Council made a decision to set up a new public advisory group for the College, agreed amendments to the policy governing the handling of complaints about Council and committee members, and discussed a potential new policy around the RCVS bringing forward private prosecutions for breaches of the Veterinary Surgeons Act.
The meeting took place at the University of Glasgow’s School of Veterinary Medicine on Thursday 8 September with proceedings being opened by RCVS President Dr Melissa Donald MRCVS who welcomed elected members Olivia Cook MRCVS and Dr Abbie Calow MRCVS to their first full RCVS Council meeting.
Following approval by Council of the minutes of three previous meetings on 9 June, 6 July and 8 July, RCVS Chief Executive Lizzie Lockett gave her update to RCVS Council, highlighting some of the College’s key achievements since the June meeting.
Highlights included: the launch of the RCVS Academy, a new digital learning platform that aims to support veterinary professionals at any stage of their career to meet professional standards; the publication of a report with recommendations on improving support for Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) veterinary students as well as a guide on accommodating religious clothing and beliefs in the veterinary workplace; and the holding of four VN registration ceremonies along with belated, in-person Diamond Jubilee Evening at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the profession.
Following an update from Chris Gush, Executive Director of RCVS Knowledge, on the charity’s current work and priorities, as well as separate updates on the College’s tendering process for the project management of the refurbishment of its new headquarters, Council went on to discuss proposed amendments to the policy on how complaints about a member of RCVS Council and/or committee members are handled.
The proposed amendments included: allowing Council/ committee members to request an independent review of an investigation where the complaint about them has been upheld; giving the RCVS President discretionary powers as to whether the outcome of a complaint is reported in public if it involves health-related matters and/or further investigation by other authorities; and a further clause in the policy stating that, if a Council or committee member resigns before a decision is reached on the complaint against them, the complaint will be re-activated should they be re-elected or re-appointed to Council within two years of the date of their resignation.
Following a debate amongst Council members, the amendments were approved by majority vote.
RCVS Registrar Eleanor Ferguson introduced the next paper, which was based on the College’s strategic ambition to take a more active role around breaches of the VSA, for example, unqualified individuals undertaking veterinary work and courses falsely purporting to lead to a registerable qualification.
The potential options that the paper explored were that the RCVS could do more to educate animal owners on using veterinary services, that the RCVS could assist those with concerns about the breaches of the VSA to raise these cases with relevant authorities, and that the RCVS could itself bring private prosecutions against those it believed were breaching the VSA.
Council heard that, over the past year, the RCVS had on a number of occasions assisted other agencies/ authorities on investigations of suspected VSA breaches. However, it was considered that the RCVS could potentially consider undertaking its own private investigations and criminal prosecutions for VSA breaches by unqualified individuals where statutory prosecuting authorities did not have the resources to pursue these cases. It was noted that the RCVS had no statutory powers of investigation and so, if it did pursue a private prosecution, it would have no powers to carry out a criminal investigation or compel evidence.
After a discussion about the potential advantages, disadvantages and costs of private prosecutions, Council members voted for a further paper setting out a draft policy on private prosecutions, as well as what general information regarding breaches of the Veterinary Surgeons Act could be provided to members of the public and the professions.
Council was next presented with a paper on the formation of an RCVS public advisory group (PAG) to help the College better understand the issues currently affecting the public, to consult with on the development of policy, to help develop and improve services for the public, and to test messaging and communications to ensure they are clear and understandable.
Members of RCVS Council voted to approve the terms of reference for the PAG, which will be chaired by a member of RCVS Council and will have a minimum pool of 30 members, comprising a mix of companion animal, equine and production animal owners and keepers. Council also approved a draft invitation for application for animal owners/ keepers who would like to join the PAG. Further information about the PAG and how to apply for it will be published in due course.
Members of RCVS Council approved the next set of activities for phase two of the ‘Council culture’ project, which was set up to clarify and improve the role of Council and Council members. The actions that the project will be looking at in phase two include updating and improving the ‘job specification’ for prospective Council members and updating the nominations form, setting up training and reflection sessions for committee chairs and exploring a reflective model to allow all Council members to review their performance.
The full agenda and papers for the Council meeting can be found at the website.