Who represents the individual? - Veterinary Practice
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Who represents the individual?

DAVID CUFFE argues that, at present, no body acts for individual vets

MANY vets in the UK see the RCVS
as their RCVS, but they are
mistaken. It is not “their” RCVS at
all – nor should it be, when one
considers its stated purpose and

The RCVS is the
statutory regulator of
the veterinary
profession (regulating
veterinary education,
ethics and clinical
standards) and, among
other things, carries
legal responsibility for
defending the public
interest against
veterinary professional
monopoly. In essence,
the role of the RCVS is
to protect the interests
of the client, not those
of individual veterinary

The BVA states that it is the national
representative body for the veterinary
profession, its main functions being to
develop and deliver policy affecting the
profession, to promote and protect the
profession in matters proposed by
Government and other external bodies
and to provide member services.

The BVA website states that its
mission is to represent the profession
and to provide assistance to members in
fulfilling their professional roles.

The BVA, therefore, represents the
profession as a whole; no reference is made to the
considerations of or
representation for the
individual vet.

DEFRA’s primary
concern is a healthy
environment. It states
that animal health and
welfare is central to its
work of protecting
and improving
livestock and
controlling and
eradicating disease.

So the RCVS
represents the public
in veterinary matters,
the BVA represents the profession as a whole, and DEFRA is
concerned with animal health insofar as
it relates to the general human
environment. The answer to my
question would, therefore, appear to be
that no body, in fact, acts for the

I believe that we, vets, need an organisation which is prepared, indeed
constituted, to act on behalf of and,
when necessary, defend the individual
veterinary surgeon. Each of the existing
bodies has a brief but none extends to
include representation of the rights of
the individual vet. Even if the briefs
were to be re-written to include such
responsibility, with the exception of the
RCVS (which has teeth and frequently
recourses to legal action) the
organisations lack the necessary
mandate to ensure enforcement. They
have no teeth. If it is to be effective, I
believe this new body must have teeth.

An example of where such an
organisation might have acted at
national level is the foot-and-mouth
debacle of a few years ago. Many vets
were obliged at that time to cull
hundreds of animals, against their better
judgement. The BVA, acting on behalf
of the profession as a whole, expressed
the collective reservations. The
reservations were ignored by the
Minister and the animals were culled, by
hundreds of BVA members.

Had there been a body whose
primary responsibility it was to act in
support of the membership’s wishes,
this body would have had the mandate
required to insist on appropriate weight
being given to professional opinion,
throughout the deliberations, if
necessary at the risk of losing veterinary
goodwill and perhaps of seeing the
withdrawal of veterinary services.

I believe the public would have held
us in much greater regard had there
been a mechanism which allowed us,
effectively, to say “No”.

A responsibility to protect the
most vulnerable
This new organisation would also act at
individual level. An ethical profession
has a responsibility to protect its most
vulnerable members. By definition these
are individuals. None of the existing
bodies has this protection as even part
of its remit.

I know this will cause squawks of
indignation, but if nowhere in your
mission statement is there anything to
suggest that you might be there to serve
the individual, and if at every turn that
burdened (occasionally despairing or
suicidal) individual seems to be
compromised because whichever
organisation he or she considers seems
to be set up to protect the group and
not the individual, can you blame him
or her for feeling that the existing
bodies are remote from his or her world
and indifferent to his or her plight?

The RCVS does an adequate job of
regulating the profession externally but
nobody does a good job of regulating
the profession internally. Of course,
there is employment legislation, ACAS, the Vet Helpline and The Samaritans,
etc., but these have long been in place
and vulnerable individuals still exist, are
still miserable, still being exploited, still
at risk. These are not the isolated few.

There are dozens, perhaps hundreds,
who have e-mailed cries for help, who
are frightened the boss will find out,
who very much want, need, and deserve
a body designed specifically to represent
their needs. A sort of veterinary union
if you will.

In fairness, the BVA and SPVS have
acted since a BVU was first mooted.
The Young Vet is one resulting initiative.
There is disquiet about the BVU
proposal. Unfortunately, as things exist,
there is an “us and them” division in the
veterinary body in the UK.

Many vets speak of the RCVS and
BVA as remote…
When asked, many vets speak of the
RCVS and the BVA as being remote
from their reality. They are disengaged
from the activities of the organisations
and to a greater or lesser extent, many
feel disenfranchised and disinterested.
However unfairly, they perceive these
bodies to be run by a veterinary elite.

There has been some predictable
reactionary guff, but the overwhelming
response from individuals to the
suggestion of a BVU has been positive,
whilst that from the organisations
concerned has been muted. I can
understand the disquiet. But if the need
is not there, the organisation will not
flourish. The corollary does not apply.

Personally, I have never been pro
trades unions and would still not really
regard myself as such – but the calls for
help speak for themselves and I cannot
help but feel that there is a very real and
ever growing need for such body and if
several hundred vets have pledged
support, then count me in. I don’t want
to be part of the problem, I want to be
part of the solution.

If the answer lies in founding a
veterinary union, which I believe it does,
thensobeit–andif thatmakesmea
trades unionist, I can live with that.

We are, when all is said and done, a
small profession, and resources should
not be wasted in duplication.

It may be that the best place for a
union would be as a non-territorial
division of the BVA. Like other non-
territorial divisions, it could be entirely
independent in its constitution, actions
and policies.

The BVU concept addresses areas
not currently addressed by anyone else.
There could be synergy. But
unfortunately, BVA appears to be in a
state of denial and does not show any
appetite for co-operation.

Equally, the BVU could go ahead
as an independent entity and if it
succeeds, may well usurp the main
ground from the existing

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