DC reprimands vet for dishonesty and consent breaches

10 May 2019

The RCVS Disciplinary Committee, chaired by Professor Alistair Barr, has issued a reprimand and warning as to future conduct to a veterinary surgeon for serious professional misconduct in relation to their admitted failure to obtain necessary consent for posts on social media and dishonesty in communication.

The hearing of the case against Dr Natalia Anna Strokowska took place between Wednesday 17 April and Tuesday 30 April 2019 when the Disciplinary Committee considered four charges against her. The first charge was that, being registered in the ‘Practising Outside the United Kingdom’ category of the Register of Veterinary Surgeons maintained by the RCVS, she practised as a veterinary surgeon in the counties of Somerset, Shropshire, London, Lancashire and Norfolk between 1 July 2016 and 31 August 2017 when she was not registered as UK-practising. The charges were that her conduct in relation to this was dishonest and misleading to her employer and/or clients.

The second charge was that, between 1 October 2016 and 31 July 2017, Dr Strokowska made posts on social media which included photographs of and/or comments about animals being treated at practices at which she worked, without the consent of the owner of that animal and/or the practice at which it was being treated.

The third charge was that, between 1 January 2017 and 1 March 2017, Dr Strokowska made posts on social media which included photographs of and/or videos of and/or comments about animals being treated at Goddards Veterinary Hospital in Wanstead, without the consent of the treating and/or operating veterinary surgeon.

The fourth charge was that, between 20 July 2017 and 9 September 2017, Dr Strokowska made representations to the practice principal of Barn Lodge, in Lancashire, and/or a student vet working at the practice that she had gained consent for photographs and social media posts when she had not, and that her conduct was dishonest and misleading.

At the outset of the hearing, the respondent admitted to having practised as a veterinary surgeon in the UK when she was registered as practising outside the UK, but disputed that she had been dishonest or misleading with regards to this. She also admitted to the entirety of the second charge and part of the third, but, under the latter charge, denied that she had, without consent, taken a video of an animal being operated on by a veterinary colleague. Finally, she admitted to dishonest and misleading conduct with regard to part of the fourth charge, but denied that, on 21 July and 25 July 2017, she informed the practice principal that she had been told that she would be allowed to take photographs at Barn Lodge and post these on social media, when she had not been so told.

The Disciplinary Committee went on to consider the facts of the case for each of the charges that remained in issue.

Having considered all of the evidence, the Committee accepted that she did not have her registration status with the RCVS in her mind while she was working in the UK during the period in question. Accordingly, the Committee did not find her to have been dishonest.

With regards to the third charge the Committee considered the issue of whether the video in question had been posted “without the consent of the treating and/or operating veterinary surgeon”. After examining the relevant evidence (which included the video in question) the Committee determined that the evidence did not support the facts charged and thus that charge three was not proved.

"Unauthorised posting of photographs of animals being treated by a veterinary surgeon on social media may well cause distress to the owners, and damage to the reputation of the profession as a whole, and to the reputation of individual practices."

With regards to the fourth charge, Strokowska denied that her conduct in relation to informing the principal that she had been told that she would be allowed to take photographs and post these on social media was dishonest or misleading, on the basis that she believed she had permission to take and post photographs on social media. The Committee was not able to be sure as to how she sought this consent and the response provided and so the charge was found not proved.

The Committee then went on to consider whether the charges that were admitted amounted to serious professional misconduct.

The Committee found that it was the Respondent’s responsibility to ensure that her registration status was appropriate at the time she was doing locum work in the UK. However she had provided her RCVS registration number to all the practises she had worked for and in the view of the committee there was no intention to deceive anyone. In the judgement of the Committee, her conduct was not sufficiently grave so as to constitute serious professional misconduct.

The Committee, in its judgement, concluded that her conduct in relation to the second charge did fall far short of the behaviour to be expected of a member of the veterinary profession, and amounted to serious professional misconduct.

The Committee considered that all members of the profession are obliged to ensure that they comply with the provisions of the Code of Professional Conduct, and the supporting guidance, in relation to the use of the internet and social media.

"The Committee, in its judgement, considered that by choosing to lie in response to a genuine professional enquiry about her conduct, her behaviour fell far short of that to be expected from a member of the veterinary profession, and constituted serious professional misconduct."

Unauthorised posting of photographs of animals being treated by a veterinary surgeon on social media may well cause distress to the owners, and damage to the reputation of the profession as a whole, and to the reputation of individual practices.

The aspect of the third charge admitted by the respondent involved posting a photograph with accompanying text of a dog without the consent of the treating and/or operating veterinary surgeon. The Committee considered that this was, indeed, a matter of professional discourtesy, but did not consider that it amounted to serious professional misconduct.

The respondent admitted the fourth charge and admitted that her conduct was dishonest and misleading. The Committee, in its judgement, considered that by choosing to lie in response to a genuine professional enquiry about her conduct, her behaviour fell far short of that to be expected from a member of the veterinary profession, and constituted serious professional misconduct.

The Committee next considered what, if any, sanction to impose. In mitigation the Committee considered the following: that the postings were an attempt to promote the health and welfare of animals; the lack of risk of harm or actual harm to an animal or human; no apparent financial gain from her actions; her youth and inexperience at the time of the misconduct; her open and frank admissions at an early stage; her subsequent efforts to avoid repetition; the lapse of time since the incident; and her demonstration of insight into the effects of her postings on some owners.

The Committee considered the available sanctions in order starting with no further action. The Committee did not consider that this was appropriate where the serious professional misconduct found in this case involved dishonesty, even given the mitigating factors relating to that as outlined above, nor in view of the repeated nature of the social media posts without owner consent.

The Committee determined that a reprimand and warning as to future conduct was the appropriate sanction in the circumstances of this case.

Dr Strokowska was reprimanded for her serious professional misconduct in relation to her admitted failure to obtain necessary consent for posts on social media and her dishonesty in communication.

She was warned that she should in future be fully aware of, and comply with, the provisions of the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct and its supporting guidance, in particular as it relates to the use of social media, including the need to ensure that she has obtained all the necessary consents from all relevant parties.

Please note: This news story is a summary that is intended to assist in understanding the case and the Committee's decision but does not form part of the decision itself. The full facts and findings of the Disciplinary Committee are the only authoritative documents and are available to download from the DC hearings page.

 

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