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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.

If a concern about you has been raised with the Veterinary Client Mediation Service (VCMS), please visit the VCMS website for more details about the VCMS process, or call 0345 040 5834.

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

Your case will be investigated by a Stage 1 Preliminary Investigation Committee (Stage 1 PIC) composed of at least three members, including one veterinary surgeon, one lay member and one other. Once it has sufficient information, the Stage 1 PIC will meet to consider the matter and decide whether it can be closed (with or without formal advice). We will write to you to explain the decision.

If the Stage 1 PIC decides that it cannot be closed at that point the matter will be progressed to Stage 2 for further investigation.

Stage 2

The Stage 2 Preliminary Investigation Committee (Stage 2 PIC) will consider all the available information, and may request more details (for example expert reports or detailed witness statements), before deciding whether to refer the case to Stage 3 – a public Disciplinary Committee hearing.

If the Stage 2 PIC decides that there is not a realistic prospect that the veterinary surgeon’s conduct could affect their fitness to practice it can close the case with no further action; or close the case and issue formal advice to the veterinary surgeon; or, refer the case to the Charter Case Committee for a warning.

If the Stage 2 PIC considers that there is a realistic prospect and that it is in the public interest for it to do so, 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 DC may also decide to postpone judgment 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 1, for further consideration by the Stage 2 PIC, and that only a small percentage of those reach Stage 3 – 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:

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 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 PIC 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 or in writing.

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 will ask you to do so within a stated timeframe. 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. If any such comments are made, these will be shared with you so that you have an opportunity to make any final comments, before any decision is made.

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 – completed within 6 months of the concerns first being raised with us.
  • Stage 2 – completed within 12 months of the concern first being raised with us. 
  • 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 Chair 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:

  • Your indemnity insurer
  • Vetlife: access via the helpline number 0303 040 2551 or at Vetlife Website from where anonymous email support is available.