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Disciplinary Committee postpones sanction of Oxfordshire-based veterinary surgeon

23 May 2018

The RCVS Disciplinary Committee has postponed sanction for one year on an Oxfordshire-based veterinary surgeon, provided she complies with a number of undertakings.

The hearing for Susan Catherine Mulvey took place from Wednesday 25 to Thursday 26 April 2018 and concerned a number of charges relating to the treatment of a cat called Spooky, namely: that she failed to provide Spooky’s owner, Mrs Parsons, with either Spooky’s lab results or an adequate explanation as to why they could not be provided; that she failed to respond adequately or at all to communications from Mrs Parsons; that she failed to respond to requests from the College for information relating to Continuing Professional Development (CPD), her professional indemnity insurance (PII), and her correspondence with Mrs Parsons.

At the beginning of the hearing Dr Mulvey admitted the facts to all the charges, and accepted that they constituted disgraceful conduct in a professional respect. The Committee had been provided with written evidence from Mrs Parsons, her husband, and four College staff, namely Gemma Crossley, Maria Fearon, Robert Girling and Michael Hepper.

Mrs Parsons provided a statement in which she spoke of how, on 8 August 2016, she had taken Spooky to CornYard Veterinary Centre for a skin irritation where she was seen by Dr Mulvey. Dr Mulvey decided to take blood tests and send them to the laboratory, but they agreed to defer them actually being tested until Mrs Parsons gave permission. Mrs Parsons then returned to the practice with Spooky to take said samples on 17 August, after which followed a series of attempts to contact Dr Mulvey for the test results. Finally on 17 October 2016 she demanded a refund, after which she began a small claim in County Court.

Mr Parsons went to the practice at the beginning of December 2016 and obtained the refund. At this point Mrs Parsons made a complaint to the College. Further, the Committee received information from Mr Parsons, who corroborated the facts of the complaint, and from College staff who confirmed the many attempts to contact Dr Mulvey, starting with requests for documents by Ms Crossley and Ms Fearon, repeated requests for CPD and PII information from Mr Girling, and finally a hand-delivered letter by Mr Hepper, during which he learnt that her PII had lapsed at the beginning of 2017.

The College submitted that Dr Mulvey’s conduct fell far below the standard expected of a veterinary surgeon. It submitted that failing to provide the test results and communicate with the Parsons could have had a negative impact on animal welfare and damaged the reputation of the profession, while having PII is a fundamental obligation of the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct. Finally, not responding to the College about the concern raised, CPD or PII compromised the College’s ability to maintain public confidence in its regulatory processes.

The Committee considered that no harm had actually come to Spooky and that there were problems with the testing laboratory which slowed down the process. In addition, some of the lack of communication was due to a receptionist not following protocol, and Dr Mulvey was going through a particularly difficult part of her life and was clinically understaffed. The Committee heard from four different character witnesses, and were given 16 more written testimonials.

The Committee recognised that Dr Mulvey has been subject to undertakings before and yet committed the disgraceful conduct the subject of this inquiry. But it bore in mind the context of that conduct and it observes that the undertakings previously imposed in reality address a particular aspect of her practice.

The Committee heard that in 2013 there had been complaints from three separate clients, all of which concerned Dr Mulvey’s failure to communicate and to process insurance claim forms, after which she agreed to participate in the Performance Protocol and entered into undertakings with the College.

The Committee having considered all the facts and background circumstances found that Dr Mulvey’s conduct was disgraceful in a professional respect.

The Committee went on to consider what sanction was appropriate. In reaching its decision the Committee took into account a number of aggravating factors, namely that there was a slight risk to the health of Spooky and that the disgraceful conduct occurred over a prolonged period of time. The Committee also considered that there was blatant disregard of the role of the RCVS and the systems regulating the profession.

In determining the sanction the Committee also considered mitigating factors, including that Dr Mulvey, apart from those previous concerns, had a long and unblemished career and that she’s made a huge difference to the health of the animals within her care. She also admitted her shortcomings, and had very impressive references.

The Committee therefore determined to postpone its decision on sanction for a period of one year on condition that Dr Mulvey enter into the following undertakings:

  1. To agree to the appointment of a veterinary surgeon as a work place supervisor by the College and meet with them at least once every month
  2. Allow the supervisor access to all aspects of running of the practice and to implement any recommendations made by the supervisor relating to the administration of the practice and the provision of out of hours’ cover.
  3. To allow the supervisor to provide a report in relation to the matters set out in 2 above to the RCVS at least one month before the resumed hearing of this case.
  4. To appoint within two months an experienced Practice Manager (who does not need to be full time). 
  5. To enrol in the voluntary Practices Standards Scheme and to achieve the Core standards of the Scheme within the next 12 months.
  6. To submit a plan to the supervisor of CPD for the next twelve months within one month of agreeing to these undertakings. The plan should then be implemented and shall include aspects of practice management.
  7. To pay all of the costs of complying with the undertakings, with the exception of the costs associated with the appointment and performance of the supervisor.

Ian Green, chairing the Disciplinary Committee and speaking on its behalf, commented: “The Committee recognised that Dr Mulvey has been subject to undertakings before and yet committed the disgraceful conduct the subject of this inquiry. But it bore in mind the context of that conduct and it observes that the undertakings previously imposed in reality address a particular aspect of her practice. This Committee hopes that when the matter is relisted before it, the Respondent will be able to demonstrate that she has finally been able to address her administrative shortcomings. If she cannot do so, she will know that the Committee that sits on her case at the resumed hearing is likely to have more restricted options for disposal of her case.”

Please note: These news stories are published on behalf of the Disciplinary Committee and are intended to be a summary of the case to help understand the Committee's decision but do not form part of the decision itself. The Committee's full decision and findings are the only authoritative documents.

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