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Professions overwhelmingly support expanded role for VNs

31 October 2017

Both veterinary nurses and veterinary surgeons overwhelmingly support that veterinary nurses should be able to undertake additional areas of work that are not currently permitted under Schedule 3 of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966. 

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) conducted a consultation earlier this year about Schedule 3, which allows veterinary surgeons to delegate certain acts of minor surgery and medical treatment to veterinary nurses, asking for the professions’ views on how they understand and interpret it in everyday practice, how it could be clarified and how it might be amended to bolster the veterinary nursing profession.

Some 11,625 people responded to the consultation of whom 6,873 were veterinary nurses (around 35% of the profession and including some 1,665 student veterinary nurses) and 4,752 veterinary surgeons (around 21% of the profession) – the highest number that has ever responded to an RCVS consultation.

The report on the consultation, published today (Tuesday 31 October) by the Institute for Employment Studies, found a very high proportion of veterinary nurses (92%) and a clear majority of veterinary surgeons (71%) agreed that veterinary nurses should be able to undertake additional areas of work.

In terms of the professions’ understanding of Schedule 3 and how it applies in practice, both veterinary nurses and veterinary surgeons indicated that confidence in their understanding was not very high. Veterinary nurses rated their personal understanding at 6.74 out of 10 and vets rated their understanding as 5.57 out of 10.

Furthermore, when asked what prevented the full utilisation of veterinary nurses, the majority of both vet and vet nurse respondents highlighted a lack of understanding of what tasks can be delegated under Schedule 3, with around 60% of veterinary surgeons also admitting that they are not good at delegating.

While the majority of veterinary nurses (61%) thought that the RCVS gives sufficient support and advice about Schedule 3 only 50% of vets agreed with this statement. In corresponding comments both veterinary nurses and vets said they would like more clarity, especially around ‘grey areas’ such as the meaning of the term ‘minor surgery’, as well as further communication from the College about Schedule 3 and for more training for veterinary nurses to ensure they have the competence and the confidence to carry out delegated procedures.

Commenting on the results Liz Cox, Chair of RCVS Veterinary Nurses Council, said: “Thank you to all those who responded to the consultation in such large numbers and who shared their views on this topic. The consultation grew out of the government’s suggestion that we review Schedule 3 as a means of bolstering the VN profession, and from the VN Futures project last year, when Schedule 3 was identified as an area where there could be some additional work to clarify the rules around delegation to veterinary nurses.

“There was a clear consensus that veterinary nurses could do more in their role and under Schedule 3 and so we will be feeding the findings back to the RCVS Legislation Working Party, which will be looking, in the round, at possible changes to the framework of veterinary legislation, including how it applies to veterinary nurses and other paraprofessionals.

“In terms of the understanding of Schedule 3 and how it applies in practice it is clear that we need to do some further work to clarify the rules and develop guidance to assist both veterinary nurses and veterinary surgeons in exercising their professional judgement in respect to delegation, for example, through case studies and other examples.”

Other key findings of the consultation include:

  • The top five most frequently performed tasks highlighted by respondent veterinary nurses were: clinical cleaning (92%), administration of medicines by subcutaneous injection (91%), administration of medication (90%), monitoring of anaesthesia (86.5%) and administration of medicines by intramuscular injection (86%).
  • The majority of veterinary nurses are involved in clinics aimed at educating animal owners on various different aspects of animal health and welfare. The most common include puppy/ kitten care (66.5% of respondents), nutrition (65% of respondents), general check-ups (62.5% of respondents) and dental care clinics (57% of respondents).
  • Post-survey interviews with 10 veterinary nurses and 10 veterinary surgeons found a number of recurring themes. These include limited career paths for veterinary nurses; poor pay for VNs relative to their training and complexity of work; lack of recognition and appreciation for the VN role; enthusiasm for advanced practitioner and specialist status for VNs; and difficulty recruiting experienced VNs.

The results of the consultation will now be considered by the RCVS Schedule 3 and Legislation Working Parties, which are reviewing the efficacy of the current Veterinary Surgeons Act and whether changes need to be made to bring the legislative framework for the profession up-to-date, including consideration of the part played by allied professions like veterinary nurses in the veterinary team.

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