29 October 2014
From Monday 3 November 2014 we will be undertaking a six-month alternative dispute resolution (ADR) trial as the first step towards developing a new consumer redress system for users of veterinary services.
Although we are obliged to investigate all concerns raised with it, the College is limited to dealing with only the most serious of concerns raised against a veterinary surgeon’s or registered veterinary nurse’s fitness to practise.
This means that many of the 800 or so concerns received every year by our Professional Conduct Department are closed with no further action.
Nick Stace, Chief Executive Officer and Secretary, explains: “It was clear from our consultations last year for the First Rate Regulator initiative that many animal owners who had made complaints were dissatisfied and frustrated with the fact that we were unable to take their, often very legitimate, concerns any further.
“It is for this reason that we decided to launch a trial in order to determine how we could develop an alternative scheme that, through conciliation, would try and resolve these disputes in a way that would be acceptable to both parties.
“Although this trial is small-scale we hope that it will provide the framework for a permanent ADR scheme which I believe would both increase consumer confidence in the profession and help maintain and preserve its reputation.
“We hope that the profession will actively support the trial, and any future scheme, as a way of resolving those intractable disputes which we know can hang over veterinary surgeons and practices and that they recognise that, ultimately, what is good for the consumer can be good for the profession.”
The trial will be administered by the Ombudsman Services, an independent and not-for-profit complaint resolution service, and limited to no more than 150 concerns raised about veterinary surgeons in regards to the treatment of a small animal. In most cases concerns referred to the trial will have no arguable case for serious professional misconduct.
The trial is free to the users and voluntary, and consent will be sought from both parties before the concern is referred to the Ombudsman Services. The costs of the trial will not exceed £120,000.
Recommendations will be determined through conciliation between both parties and the Ombudsman Services will only be able to suggest, rather than impose, a solution that each party is entitled to accept, or not.
Solutions could include, for example, financial accommodation up to the small claims court limit of £10,000 (although the average recommendation is around £100), the issuing of an apology or other practical action to remedy the situation.
The Ombudsman Services will be assisted in its investigations by veterinary advisers who will provide guidance on clinical and other veterinary matters.
The results of the trial, which will end in May 2015, will be presented at the June 2015 meeting of RCVS Council where steps will be considered for the development of a permanent scheme.