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Royal College Day 2023: Address from RCVS CEO Lizzie Lockett

A very warm welcome to RCVS Day, our annual general meeting and awards presentation.

This, the first Friday in July, marks the turning point of the RCVS year. It’s like New Year’s Day but without the fireworks – although one never quite knows how the AGM Q&A session might turn out!

And in common with New Year, it’s a time for both reflection and for looking forward.

So, reflecting on the last 12 months, how do we feel?

It’s been a difficult year in so many ways, with the wars in Ukraine and Sudan, and energy and cost of living crises. We lost our patron, Her Majesty the Queen, a keen loss that was felt the world over. There has also been more than just a little political upheaval this year.

We have had our own upheavals too – but as someone once said, without ups and downs we would be flatlining, and that is not compatible with life!

Yet against this backdrop, the team at the College have achieved a huge amount and I would just like to take a moment to reflect on some of their fabulous milestones.

The RCVS Academy celebrated its first birthday a couple of weeks ago, and this online learning portal now offers a great range of short courses and bite-size modules to help vets and nurses meet the standards expected of them. We have welcomed over 8,300 unique learners, with a total of over ten-and-a-half thousand individual course enrolments over the year. If you have not yet logged on to have a look, please do!

The Academy is a manifestation of our strong aim to support veterinary professionals to succeed, and part of the compassion workstream of our strategy.

Meanwhile, members of the new Charter Case Committee have now been recruited, trained and are ready to go – this is the committee that will look at complaints that could meet the threshold for serious professional misconduct but at the lower end, where the Preliminary Investigation Committee feels it would be more compassionate not to take the induvial through a full, formal and public disciplinary hearing.

This is a great example of how, with a combination of our charter and statutory powers, we try our best to be a modern forward-thinking and compassionate regulator, despite the age of our legislation.

The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 – well, I hesitate to say it’s ancient – as I am not a million miles away from that age myself – and neither are some of you -  but it is surely no longer fit for purpose. We have spent a lot of time this year lobbying for change to the Act, to allow us to better regulate the professions, the wider the vet-led team, and where they work in a way that is sustainable. It’s a complex process, and we are in the hands of Defra and government, but we continue to make our case.

Talking of sustainability… this year we launched our Practice Standards Sustainability Award, and I am delighted that we recently have made our first award – to Paragon vets. We know that sustainability, in all its forms – environmental, societal and financial – is close to the heart of so many in the professions, and it is to us too.

Sustainability is key in the refurbishment of our new building at Hardwick Street, as well.  Our final set of tenants will vacate that building shortly and the refurbishment work will start in earnest this autumn. We hope to be in situ sometime in the first half of next year. It’s been an interesting project so far as it has really given us pause to consider how we work in this post-pandemic world – or should I say post THIS pandemic, as no doubt it won’t be our last.

With apologies to Dolly Parton… long gone are the days of clocking in at 9 and leaving at 5. Long gone are rows of desks with individuals putting on restrictive clothes, enduring a lengthy commute and working on their own in an office.

Now many people do the working alone at home, and come into the office to work together. Collaboration, coaching, creativity, connection – these have become the motivations for time spent in the office and it’s been a lovely process to watch.

In fact I am tempted to have an ‘in office’ message apologising for delays to responding, rather than an ‘out of office’ message, as it’s the days when I am in that I spend collaborating rather than being tied to my emails!

Although the world of work remains in flux, this pattern is likely to continue and will be reflected in the space and facilities we have at Hardwick Street – not only for our staff but for our members, the public and for events. We look forward to welcoming many of you there before this time next year.

We published our Workforce action plan in the autumn of last year and have been working through that. Early autumn we are due to have the results of a workforce modelling exercise that will help us to understand the future supply and demand issues, too. We have been focussing on some specific areas, including the pipeline of public health vets, working with government and agencies, and also clinical career pathways, with a particular focus on general practice, holding an event towards the end of 2022 and an ensuing report. We will keep you updated on progress.

One of our more controversial activities this year was the culmination of many years of work – our under care/out-of-hours review. The new guidance – which comes into force in September, represents a sensible approach that balances professional judgement with some principles-based checks and balances that should ensure that those who wish to embrace technology can do so safely. We have published case studies to support practitioners, and given more detailed guidance via our webinars, and will be keeping any impact under review.

We now have a protocol to support private prosecutions under the Veterinary Surgeons Act, which is yet one more way in which we are supporting the high standards of animal health and welfare of which the UK can rightly be proud.

Our year ahead kicks off the last 18 months of our strategy plan, so towards the end of this presidential year we will be considering the shape of a new plan.

Like the sunset, we often do our best work just before a deadline… so I am expecting continued great things from the team over the next year, as our current plan draws to a close.

There are still many things to complete within the existing plan, and focal points for the year ahead include progress on our extra-mural studies database and a review of how we regulate new technology.  Our new Public Advisory Group will start to meet in the autumn, and I look forward to working with them to ensure the essential voice of animal owners and keepers is heard in our work.

Finally, I would like to conclude with a few thank yous.

Our Senior Team continue to deliver with competence, assurance and, as ever, good humour. I often joke that I wish they were a bit less competent, so occasionally I would get an easier thing to tackle – but no, it’s only the really wicked problems that get to me as everything else is handled perfectly.

And one person who has been an honorary member of our Senior Team is leaving us at the end of the month so – Chris Gush, Executive Director of our partner charity RCVS Knowledge – I would just like to say thank you for all of the amazing things you have achieved with the charity over the last few years, making it the go-to place for veterinary quality improvement and evidence-based medicine – thank you, and good luck in your new role!

I would like to thank the Officer team for their wise counsel and support. I am very sorry that Niall is not here today for his last ever RCVS Day – he has had such an amazing tour of duty on Council, as President then Treasurer and has been such a tower of strength to us all. And thank you to Melissa, who has been a fabulous President – down to earth, totally committed to the College and impressively full of energy, always.

Thank you to all of our stakeholders – and great to see so many of you here today – for supporting us to work in an informed way.

Finally, thank you to our – your – Council for the huge amount of detailed hard work they deliver year in, year out – much of which is not seen by the professions.

Thank you all, and here’s to a firm resolution to make this New Year – new College year at least – a fabulous one!

July 2023