Updated 15 June 2016
20.1 Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses may consider that they have witnessed inappropriate conduct in the workplace, on the part of a professional colleague or the practice as a whole. Inappropriate conduct may include a breach of the RCVS Codes of Professional Conduct for veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses or unethical behaviour, for example, false certification, care of an animal which falls far short of the expected standards, or practising under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
20.2 Following such consideration, a veterinary surgeon or veterinary nurse may decide to ‘blow the whistle’ and report the matter.
Reporting inappropriate conduct
20.3 The first consideration in reporting inappropriate conduct is for the veterinary surgeon or veterinary nurse to consider resolving the matter internally and discuss the concern with the senior veterinary surgeon of the practice. RCVS guidance on veterinary teams and leaders states the following:
‘Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses who have concerns about the professional conduct (including health and performance) of a colleague are encouraged to discuss the matter with the appropriate senior person, for example, the appointed senior veterinary surgeon of the practice. If the matter cannot be resolved with such an approach, any concerns should be brought to the attention of the RCVS Professional Conduct Department.'
20.4 A veterinary surgeon or veterinary nurse may consider that the matter of inappropriate conduct is particularly serious or may involve senior members of the organisation. The matter may also have been reported internally but remains unresolved. In these circumstances, veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses should consider bringing the issue to the attention of the RCVS Professional Conduct Department.
Resolving the matter
20.5 A veterinary surgeon or veterinary nurse reporting inappropriate conduct internally will need to observe any internal protocol for whistle-blowing, and resolution will be dealt with by the employer. If the matter has been brought to the attention of the RCVS Professional Conduct Department, it is likely that the veterinary surgeon or veterinary nurse will be asked to submit a formal complaint. If the matter involves allegations of illegal conduct or inappropriate action that comes within the jurisdiction of another regulator or authority, then the RCVS Professional Conduct Department may advise that the matter also be brought to the attention of the relevant body, for example the police.
20.6 It is important for veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses to acknowledge that the RCVS may be unable fully to investigate anonymous complaints.
20.7 Certain whistle-blowing is protected under The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, which seeks to protect employees from detrimental treatment by employers if they whistle-blow. Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses should consider obtaining independent legal advice if they may qualify for protection under the Act, and for further guidance on how their employment may be affected. It may also be beneficial to consider whether membership of a trade union or similar organisation would be of assistance, or whether relevant legal cover is provided by, for example, any household insurance policy.
20.8 Whistle-blowing may be carried out whether the Act applies or not.
20.9 Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses must also be aware of their duty to keep client information confidential. If reporting inappropriate conduct involves the disclosure of client information, the veterinary surgeon or veterinary nurse must disclose information only for public interest or animal welfare reasons.
20.10 The following organisations offer further information and advice:
- British Veterinary Association (BVA) www.bva.co.uk (For BVA members: legal advice telephone line, Young Vet Network, mediation and representation assistance http://www.bva.co.uk/become_member/Advice-to-protect-you.aspx and whistle-blowing guidance at http://www.bva.co.uk/publications_and_resources/Guides.aspx)
- British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA) www.bvna.org.uk
- RSPCA www.rspca.org.uk
- Citizens Advice Bureau www.citizensadvice.org.uk
- Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) www.acas.org.uk
- Public Concern at Work (PCAW) www.pcaw.co.uk
- Health and Safety Executive (HSE) www.hse.gov.uk
- The Law Society www.lawsociety.org.uk