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Information for veterinary surgeons
Whenever concerns are raised with us about a veterinary surgeon, it is our legal responsibility to investigate those concerns, and to take further action if we consider them to have any substance.
If concerns are raised with us about you, we appreciate that it can be a very worrying time. The following information outlines our process for dealing with concerns, to give you an idea of what to expect, and answers some of the immediate questions you might have.
How does the investigation process work?
A Case Manager will be assigned to your case from our Professional Conduct team and will be responsible for investigating the concerns that have been raised.
We have no powers of interim suspension. A decision to stop you from working can only be made after there has been a Disciplinary Committee (DC) hearing.
There are three distinct stages to our investigation process, which are outlined below and explained in more detail in ‘How we assess and investigate concerns raised about a veterinary surgeon’.
Stage 1 (Assessment and investigation)
Concerns will be investigated by a Case Examiner Group, comprising a Case Manager, a veterinary Case Examiner and a non-veterinary Case Examiner.
Is the concern sufficiently serious to be passed on to the Preliminary Investigation Committee?
If no we will write to tell you the reasons for this. The case may be closed with no further action, or closed with formal advice issued to the veterinary surgeon.
If yes the case will be progressed to Stage 2.
Stage 2 (Preliminary Investigation Committee)
The Preliminary Investigation Committee (PIC) will consider all the available information, and may request more details, before deciding whether to refer the case to stage three – a public Disciplinary Committee hearing.
Is there a realistic prospect that the veterinary surgeon’s conduct could affect his/her fitness to practise?
If no we will write to tell you the reasons for this. The PIC can close the case with no further action; close the case and issue formal advice to the veterinary surgeon; or, hold the case open for up to two years.
If yes the case will be progressed to Stage 3.
Stage 3 (Disciplinary Committee)
A Disciplinary Committee (DC) hearing is ordinarily held in public, similar to a court, to decide whether the veterinary surgeon is guilty of serious professional misconduct and must face formal action.
Relevant witnesses may be required to attend to give evidence.
Is the veterinary surgeon guilty of serious professional misconduct?
If no we will write to tell you the DC’s reasons for its decision.
If yes the veterinary surgeon may be struck off the register; suspended for up to two years; or, given a formal reprimand. The case can also be held open for up to two years.
You might be reassured to know that only around 20% of all concerns raised with us are progressed beyond stage one, for further consideration by the Preliminary Investigation Committee (PIC), and that only a small percentage of those reach stage three – a formal Disciplinary Committee (DC) hearing.
What types of concerns can the RCVS deal with?
We can only deal with the most serious concerns – those that will affect fitness to practise, ie your right to work as a veterinary surgeon. This will involve behaviour that has fallen far short of what is expected of a veterinary surgeon and would include, for example:
- Very poor professional performance where there are serious departures from the Standards set out in the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct
- Fraud or dishonesty
- A criminal conviction or caution
- Physical or mental health problems affecting ability to work
We cannot, as part of our statutory regulatory process:
- fine you;
- order you to carry out additional treatment that a client thinks their animal needs;
- order you to apologise;
- order you to refund fees that have been paid or to cancel fees that are outstanding;
- give clinical advice about treatment that has been given;
- order you to pay you compensation; or,
- resolve issues relating solely to negligence (read our note on negligence).
How do you obtain information?
We need to gather all the information necessary so that the Case Examiners Group can make a decision. This may include:
- more information from the person who has raised concerns
- information from others at your practice, eg your colleagues;
- information from any other veterinary surgeon who may have treated the animal concerned; and,
- information from anyone else who may have witnessed or have knowledge about the incidents raised.
The Case manager may seek information over the telephone, in writing or in meetings.
As we aim to deal with matters as promptly and efficiently as possible, we may consider that your case is one where it would be appropriate to seek information from you over the telephone.
However, you must feel comfortable with providing information in this way, so, if you have any reservations about any aspect of the process, please ask for advice either from your professional indemnity insurers or a legal adviser if you have one.
Please remember that the Case Manager will stop the conversation if they consider that you should speak to an adviser before giving us any further information, for example, because they think that you have admitted, or may admit, to conduct which could affect your fitness to practise, ie serious professional misconduct.
If you prefer to respond in writing, or if at any stage we ask you to write to us, we require a response as soon as possible, and certainly within ten days. This will help us to deal with the matter promptly.
What information do I need to supply?
A common dilemma when responding to concerns is how much detail to include.
You should aim to cover all matters referred to in the ‘Raising concerns about a veterinary surgeon’ form, or the areas highlighted by your Case Manager.
If you consider that there is material that may be helpful, although it is not directly relevant, please indicate the nature of it in your response, or make the Case Manager aware of it. We will request copies if we think it necessary.
Copies of any information you provide may be sent to the person who raised the concerns for them to comment on what you have said, and will also be used to help make decisions at any stage of the investigation.
Can I see previous decisions?
Concerns raised with us are confidential unless and until they reach the final stage of our investigation process and are referred to the RCVS Disciplinary Committee (DC) for a (usually) public hearing.
View our Disciplinary Committee page for details of charges, findings and decisions and judgments over the past 3 years.
How long does it take to reach a decision about a concern?
All cases are different, and we tailor our investigations to the nature of the concerns raised, thereby ensuring that a decision can be made as appropriately and speedily as possible. However, the following guideline may be helpful:
- Stage 1 (Assessment and investigation) – completed within 4 months of the concerns first being raised with us.
- Stage 2 (Preliminary Investigation Committee) – completed within 7 months of the concern first being raised with us for simple cases, or 12 months of the concern first being raised with us for complex cases. A case is deemed complex where the Committee requested that witness statements and/or expert evidence is obtained.
- Stage 3 (Disciplinary Committee) – hearings scheduled and held within 15 months of the concern first being raised with us.
Will you keep me informed about progress?
Yes. You will receive regular updates from your Case Manager, whom you may contact at any time during normal office hours if you need any information or have any uncertainties.
I am unhappy with your decision, what can I do?
We aim to give you a proper explanation and reasons for the decisions we make.
If, however, you are unhappy with a decision, you should first contact your Case Manager for further explanation.
After doing this, if you remain unhappy, you should write to the Head of Professional Conduct and the Chairman of the Preliminary Investigation Committee to request they consider your concerns.
You will need to state the reasons for your request, as well as detailing any new or relevant information. If you are dissatisfied with their response, you will need to consider whether to pursue your concerns through the courts by seeking a judicial review of our decision
If you have any queries about our investigation process, please contact your Case Manager.
Advice on how to respond may be provided by your professional indemnity insurer.
I’m worried about the case against me – who else can I talk to?
We understand that having concerns raised about you can be very worrying. Please consider seeking help and advice from others, for example: