1. Veterinary surgeons are one of a number of professionals who may see and hear things during the course of their professional activity which arouse suspicion of animal abuse and/or domestic violence and child abuse. Increasingly domestic violence, child abuse and animal abuse are seen to be linked and efforts are being made to raise awareness within the veterinary profession.
2. When a veterinary surgeon is presented with an injured animal whose clinical signs cannot be attributed to the history provided by the client, s/he should include non-accidental injury in their differential diagnosis.
3. If there is suspicion of animal abuse, as a result of examining an animal, a veterinary surgeon should consider whether the circumstances are sufficiently serious to justify breaching the usual obligations of client confidentiality. In the first instance, in appropriate cases, the veterinary surgeon should attempt to discuss his/her concerns with the client.
In cases where this would not be appropriate or where the client's reaction increases rather than allays concerns, the veterinary surgeon should contact the relevant authorities, for example the RSPCA (Tel: 0300 1234 999 - 24-hour line covering England and Wales); SSPCA (03000 999 999 covering Scotland); USPCA (028 9081 4242 - 24-hour line covering Northern Ireland) to report alleged cruelty to an animal.
4. Such action should only be taken when the veterinary surgeon considers on reasonable grounds that either animals show signs of abuse or are at real and immediate risk of abuse - in effect where the public interest in protecting an animal overrides the professional obligation to maintain client confidentiality. A veterinary surgeon may contact the RCVS for advice before any confidential information is divulged.
Child abuse and domestic violence
5. Given the links between animal and child abuse and domestic violence, a veterinary surgeon reporting suspected animal abuse to the relevant authority should consider whether a child might be at risk. A veterinary surgeon may also consider a child to be at risk in the absence of any animal abuse.
6. Where a veterinary surgeon is concerned about child abuse or domestic violence, he/she should consider reporting the matter to the relevant authorities. The following authorities can be contacted, the local authority social services department, the NSPCC for England, Wales and Northern Ireland (Tel. 0808 800 5000 - 24 hour line cover); CHILDREN FIRST for Scotland (0131 446 2300) or local police Child Protection Unit. A veterinary surgeon may contact the RCVS for advice before any confidential information is divulged.
7. The NSPCC leaflet Understanding the links: child abuse, animal abuse and family violence - information for professionals provides further information, including information on domestic violence and telephone numbers for the relevant authorities throughout the UK.
Professional Conduct Department, 28 January 2003
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