Last week (Wednesday 4 November 2020) RCVS launched a landmark consultation with the professions and the public on recommendations for wholesale reform of the legislative framework of the veterinary professions.

The consultation covers the recommendations set out in the Report of the RCVS Legislation Working Party (LWP), which was approved for consultation by RCVS Council at its June 2020 meeting, plus proposed interim reforms to the disciplinary system that would bring the College closer to regulatory best practice without the need for primary legislation.

The Report’s recommendations have been developed by the LWP over the course of three years, with input from the veterinary nursing profession throughout via  representatives from the British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA) and RCVS VN Council.

The working party was set up due to increasing concern that the current legislative basis for the veterinary professions, the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 and its various schedules and amendments, is overly burdensome, prescriptive, and therefore no longer fit-for-purpose and that new legislation that better reflects the current circumstances and principles of the vet-led team could be needed.

Particular consideration was given to the relationship between the current legislation and veterinary nurses and how legislative changes might be used to enhance the veterinary nursing role.

The key recommendations of the report include:

  • Enhancing the veterinary nursing role: this recommendation covers extending the role of veterinary nurses so that they are able to assist in all aspects of anaesthesia with veterinary supervision. Another recommendation is around allowing veterinary nurses to undertake cat castrations under veterinary direction and supervision. The Report also takes in some further potential developments of the veterinary nursing role that don’t require legislative changes including the development of a ‘nurse prescriber’ role.
  • Embracing the vet-led team: this includes the statutory regulation of all members of the vet-led team including paraprofessionals not currently under our regulatory remit, in addition to other reforms such as statutory protection for veterinary titles (including ‘veterinary nurse’), more flexible powers of delegation, and the separation of delegation from employment.
  • Assuring practice regulation: this recommendation includes granting us powers to regulate veterinary practices (and not just individual veterinary professionals) on a mandatory basis in order to assure practice standards are being met. Allied to this is granting us powers of entry to veterinary practices and the power to issue improvement notices to veterinary practices that are failing to meet minimum legal standards.
  • Introduce a modern ‘Fitness to Practise’ regime: this recommendation includes the introduction of the concept of ‘current impairment’ so that investigation and disciplinary procedures, including those for veterinary nurses, concentrate on an individual’s current fitness to practise rather than past misconduct. Allied to this are recommendations around widening grounds for investigation of professional misconduct, powers to impose interim orders to temporarily suspend the right to practise, allowing the review of suspension orders and introducing a wider range of sanctions. Other recommendations would allow us to more effectively manage investigations and cases, as well as reduce the length and cost of investigations.
  • Modernising RCVS registration: this recommendation includes provisions to allow limited licensure in principle, including in specific circumstances where a physical or other disability would limit the ability to work in all areas of practice. Other recommendations include giving us the power to introduce revalidation processes, to ensure that veterinary professionals remain up-to-date and demonstrate that they continue to meet the requirements of their professional regulator as they are now, rather than when they first qualified, in line with other healthcare professions, and mandatory underpinning of the need for veterinary professionals to demonstrate they undertake continuing professional development (CPD).

Many of the above recommendations would require new primary legislation, and introducing the package as a whole would require a replacement for the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966.

As well as being consulted on the Legislation Working Party’s Report and proposed recommendations on legislative changes, the profession and public will be asked for their views on three specific proposals on reforming the disciplinary system that do not require primary legislation in order to enact.

These changes were developed by the College separately from, but complementary to, the recommendations made by the LWP, and are designed to bring our disciplinary processes, including those for veterinary nurses, closer to best practice in the short term, where feasible, without having to wait for the primary legislation essential to achieving the LWP recommendations in full.

These are:

  • a change to the standard of proof used in deciding whether or not the facts of a case are proven from the current criminal standard (‘beyond all reasonable doubt’), to the civil standard (‘on the balance of probabilities’). It is important to note that this standard is only applied to deciding on the facts of a case. The decision as to whether the proven facts amount of professional misconduct remains as currently;
  • the introduction of a ‘Charter Case Protocol,’ under which cases that meet the threshold for a full Disciplinary Committee hearing, but which might be likely to attract a low sanction, may be concluded without a public hearing. Suitable cases may include those where factors such as insight or remediation have been shown. Instead of a disciplinary hearing, the case may be concluded in a more proportionate manner, for example, via a system of publicly-issued warnings and/or advice;
  • to end the current system of initial review of complaints via a Case Examiners Group with the more complex of these cases then reviewed subsequently by the Preliminary Investigation Committee. Instead a single-stage review process with complaints considered by a number of ‘mini-Preliminary Investigation Committees’ with three members would be used.  This would simplify the system and potentially speed up the concerns investigation and disciplinary processes, thus reducing the stress of the process on all parties. Full Preliminary Investigation Committee meetings (involving five Committee members) would still take place to consider the most complex cases.

15 January 2021 update: The consultation has been extended from the previous 27 January deadline, to allow more time for the professions to respond. You can now provide feedback and comment on the recommendations via the online survey until 5pm on Friday, 23 April 2021.

Vet and a VN in practice