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Standards & advice update: March 2021

This month’s Standards & Advice update covers updates to the Code of Professional Conduct around microchipping and ownership disputes, on microchipping horses in Scotland in compliance with the Scottish Government's latest legislation, and on the principles of certification for Official Veterinarians.

In addition, we have a reminder on the circumstances under which veterinary surgeons, veterinary nurses and other practice staff may breach confidentiality in order to report concerns about suspected animal abuse. 

Separately to this update, we have also issued new Covid recovery guidance in line with the UK and devolved governments' roadmaps for how restrictions will be eased over the coming weeks and months. 

Microchips and ownership disputes

The supporting guidance to the Code of Conduct for Veterinary Surgeons and Veterinary Nurses relating to microchips, has now been updated, with Chapter 29 of the guidance being amended to include best practice advice in relation to small animals only. A new Chapter 30 has also now been published, which includes best practice advice in relation to equines and microchips. 

These updates arose as a result of the changes to legislation on compulsory microchipping of equines throughout the UK, which came into force in 2019/2020, and the separating out of supporting guidance for small animals and equines was considered necessary by the Standards Committee due to the differences between the potential ownership issues which may arise in practice. 

Both of these new chapters include best practice advice for the profession when considering their professional conduct obligations where there are live ownership disputes about animals. 

Certification updates

Official Veterinarians (OVs) should note that there have been the following changes to the Principles of Certification, which are also reflected in Chapter 21 ('Certification') of the supporting guidance to the Code of Professional Conduct. 

The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) has updated its OV guidance regarding signing and stamping foreign versions of export health certificates. For exports to the European Union, EU border control posts require that foreign language versions of export health certificates are fully completed (ie each page is filled in, signed and stamped). This differs from the previous advice provided by the APHA on Intra-Trade Animal Health Certificates, namely initial and stamp only (ie “fan stamping”), which no longer applies.

OVs are reassured in the notes for guidance that the foreign language versions of certificates provided by the APHA are official and accurate translations of the corresponding English version and the paragraphs/subheadings are identical. As such, OVs are instructed in the notes for guidance to complete, sign and stamp the foreign language versions of certificates on this basis.

Principle 3 of Chapter 21 of the supporting guidance has been updated to reflect this change.

Additionally, Principle 8 of Chapter 21 has been updated to reflect that multiple-page certificates must include page numbers.

Reporting cases of suspected animal abuse: a reminder

Veterinary surgeons, registered/student veterinary nurses, and those who work in practice will be conscious of how important the duty of confidentiality is in the vet-client relationship. However, there are circumstances where it may be justifiable to breach client confidentiality, for example, where there are concerns about animal welfare.

When a veterinary surgeon or nurse considers, on reasonable grounds, that an animal shows signs of abuse, or is at real and immediate risk of abuse (in effect, where the public interest in protecting an animal overrides the professional obligation to maintain client confidentiality) they may consider that breaching client confidentiality to report the concerns to the appropriate authority (ie the RSPCA or SSPCA) is justifiable. This could include when an animal has been presented with signs of abuse or neglect, or where a client has failed to attend a follow-up appointment and is uncontactable, and could include concerns about other animals that a client may have at home.

The RSPCA has recently published an FAQ on reporting information on cases of suspected animal cruelty and neglect which the profession is encouraged to review along with the RCVS supporting guidance on client confidentiality.

Microchipping of older horses in Scotland 

With effect from 28 March 2021, it will be a legal requirement in Scotland that all horses must be microchipped, have a passport, and be registered with a Passport Issuing Organisation (PIO).

Veterinary surgeons are advised that when implanting a microchip into older horses, they must sign and stamp/certify the horse’s passport, where this has been provided by the owner/keeper.  Please see Chapter 21 of the supporting guidance in relation to the 10 Principles of Certification.

Please also make sure to read Horse passports: guidance for owners, keepers, veterinarians and local authorities 2020, from the Scottish Government’s Agriculture and Rural Delivery Directorate. 

For further information, please contact the Agriculture and Rural Delivery Directorate by email: [email protected]

March 2021