The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) disciplinary committee has directed that a Doncaster-based veterinary surgeon be removed from the register after he was found to have taken and used controlled drugs, reported for work while unfit to do so, and ignored reasonable requests from the RCVS to respond adequately to the concerns raised against him.
The hearing for Stephen Prichard took place from 20 to 22 September 2022 and proceeded in his absence after he mainly failed to respond to numerous attempts to contact him about the hearing and engage him in the process including by email, post, telephone and personal service of documents.
In its decision to proceed in Mr Prichard’s absence the committee confirmed that it would not hold his non-attendance against him or attach any adverse inference to that fact.
The first set of charges against Mr Prichard were that he, on occasions between 1 April 2016 and 29 April 2021, taken quantities of the prescription-only medication and the controlled drug Vetergesic from the practice’s stock other than for legitimate veterinary use.
And that on 30 April took Vetergesic from the practice by drawing it into a syringe for the purposes of self administration. In doing so, his conduct was dishonest.
Another set of charges were that, on five separate occasions between 5 December 2019 and 29 April 2021, Mr Prichard had attended the practice to work as a veterinary surgeon whilst unfit to do so.
The final charge related to Mr Prichard’s failure to respond adequately or at all to all reasonable requests from the RCVS for his response to concerns raised about his conduct.
At the beginning of the hearing Nicole Curtis, acting on behalf of the College, read the written evidence from 11 separate witnesses outlining the facts related to the charges against Mr Prichard, including the record of an investigative meeting held by the practice in which he admitted his theft and use of the controlled drug and following which, he was dismissed from his employment.
Having considered the evidence from the witnesses, the committee then considered whether they found the charges against Mr Prichard proven.
All the charges were found proven by the committee which then went on to consider if the proven charges, individually or in any combination, amounted to serious professional misconduct. In doing so, the committee took into account both aggravating and mitigating factors.
In terms of aggravating factors the committee found that there was a risk of injury, recklessness, premeditated and sustained misconduct, and that there was an abuse of his professional position in accessing prescription-only controlled drugs for reasons other than legitimate veterinary use.
In mitigation, the committee considered that he had made admissions as part of the practice’s internal disciplinary investigation.
Overall, the committee found he had breached aspects of the Code of Professional Conduct related to honesty and integrity, making animal health and welfare his first priority, appropriate use of veterinary medicines, taking steps to address physical and mental health conditions that could affect fitness to practise, responding to reasonable requests from the RCVS, and bringing the profession into disrepute. Therefore, the Committee found him guilty of serious professional misconduct in relation to all of the charges charges.
In considering its sanction, the committee having carefully considered all possible alternative sanctions that were available felt that, considering the seriousness of the misconduct, removal from the Register was the most appropriate decision.
Austin Kirwan, chairing the committee and speaking on its behalf, said: “This is a case involving serious dishonesty, sustained over a period of time, and conduct potentially detrimental to animal welfare, as well as wilful disregard of professional regulations.
“Regrettably, Mr Prichard’s failure to engage with the College and with the regulatory process limited the options open to the committee.
“Notwithstanding this, Mr Prichard’s disgraceful conduct is so serious that removal from the Register is the only means of protecting animals and the wider public interest which includes the maintenance of public confidence in the profession and the upholding of standards.”
The full details of the hearing and the committee’s decision can be found at the website.