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Disciplinary Committee takes no further action against Dorset veterinary surgeon

27 January 2017

The College's Disciplinary Committee has decided to take no further action in relation to a veterinary surgeon who admitted disgraceful conduct in relation to her striking a number of dogs and dragging another across the floor.

This exceptional course of action was taken following medical evidence being presented to the Committee by two independent psychiatrists.

Dr Tracy Samantha Backhouse MRCVS originally faced seven charges, six of which related to striking dogs and the other which related to dragging a dog across the floor while it was in the process of anaesthetic recovery following surgery. The incidents occurred between October 2014 and March 2015 when she was Clinical Director of a practice in Cirencester.

When Dr Backhouse appeared before the Disciplinary Committee she formally admitted all the charges with the exception of an element of the first charge and the seventh charge and accepted that her actions amounted to disgraceful conduct in a professional respect. In light of her admissions the Disciplinary Committee found her guilty of serious professional misconduct.

Ian Green, chairing the Committee and speaking on its behalf, said: “They [the incidents] demonstrate a lack of professional judgment and calm consideration. None of them were dangerous situations in which a failure to act calmly might be understandable, if not excusable. The respondent acted in them all without proper consideration for the interests of her patients and their welfare. She was confrontational when she should have been calm. She was prone to try to cow her patients rather than to understand their anxiety and control them considerately.”

The Committee is aware of the stresses and strains of everyday work in a surgery and the pressures they can impose on a veterinary surgeon. But the public and his or her colleagues are entitled to expect that a veterinary surgeon will respond to those stresses and strains in a calm, measured and considered manner."

In considering what sanction to impose the Committee took into account that this was, in its own estimation, an exceptional case as the Committee having received jointly agreed evidence from two independent Psychiatrists instructed by the College and Dr Backhouse found that, at the time of the incidents, Dr Backhouse had an undiagnosed mental health condition caused by personal issues and work-related stress which wholly accounted for her behaviour at the time.

The Committee also took account of a submission by an accredited cognitive behavioural psychotherapist who is currently treating Dr Backhouse. The psychiatric evidence confirmed that there was no evidence of this mental health condition prior to October 2014, and that the condition “wholly accounted for the respondent’s emotionality and behaviour during the relevant period” and that the symptoms abated once she left her role at the Cirencester practice, meaning that she is now considered “fit to practise as a veterinary surgeon without limitations”.

The Committee also considered that, prior to October 2014, Dr Backhouse had a blameless career as a veterinary surgeon and considered a number of positive testimonials from colleagues and clients, including her present employer who described her as a “brilliant surgeon”.

Furthermore, the Committee considered that Dr Backhouse’s actions were completely out of character and that she had shown genuine remorse for her misconduct, understood its causes and had taken steps to address the problem.

Ian Green, in relaying the Committee’s decision and summing up the case, said: “The Committee finds that this is an exceptional case in which it can take an exceptional course. In the course of this decision it has sought to emphasise what should already be clear: that it is completely unacceptable for a veterinary surgeon to hit or frighten or attempt to cow his or her patients into obedience; and that it is not acceptable for a veterinary surgeon to lose his or her temper with a patient in any circumstances.

"The Committee is aware of the stresses and strains of everyday work in a surgery and the pressures they can impose on a veterinary surgeon. But the public and his or her colleagues are entitled to expect that a veterinary surgeon will respond to those stresses and strains in a calm, measured and considered manner.

“But in this case, the Committee has decided, exceptionally, to take no further action in relation to the misconduct. It is satisfied that it has discharged its duty to uphold the standards of the profession. It is confident that anyone taking the trouble to understand the particular circumstances of this case will also understand why it will not do anything to enhance the reputation of the profession to take any step which interferes adversely with the career of a dedicated and competent and fully fit veterinary surgeon whose misconduct had its origin in such an unfortunate episode of ill-health. But, most importantly, the Committee is satisfied that further action in this case is not necessary for the protection of the welfare of animals.

“The order to the Committee is that there be no further action.”

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