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Part 2: Enhancing the VN role

32. In addition to separating employment from delegation rights, and giving statutory protection to the title ‘veterinary nurse’, the LWP also recommends a number of specific expansions of the VN role:

Recommendation 2.1: Extending the VN role in anaesthesia

33. In 2015, following extensive consultation and discussion, RCVS Council approved a recommendation to increase the role of veterinary nurses in the induction and maintenance of anaesthesia via reform of Schedule 3. These proposals would allow the veterinary nurse to "assist in all aspects of anaesthesia under supervision", pursuant to an animal-specific protocol, increasing utilisation of veterinary nurses while freeing up veterinary surgeons’ time. The LWP supports the retention of this recommendation.

Recommendation 2.2: Allowing VNs to undertake cat castrations

34. At present, Schedule 3 explicitly prohibits veterinary nurses from carrying out cat castrations. Having reviewed the history of the VSA, it is clear that this provision was introduced in 1988, as the last in a series of Statutory Instruments that prohibited untrained lay people, including farmers, from carrying out numerous acts that should be reserved to veterinarians for animal welfare reasons. Prior to this, cat castrations had been carried out legally by laypeople (including the precursor to veterinary nurses, Animal Nursing Auxiliaries) under both the 1948 and 1966 Acts.

35. When the 1988 Statutory Instrument (SI) was introduced the term ‘veterinary nurse’ had only been in use for four years, and the reforms to Schedule 3 to formally recognise their role and allow them to undertake minor acts of veterinary surgery was still three years away. The non-statutory register of VNs would not be introduced for another 19 years. Since then, things have moved on considerably. Veterinary nurses are now a fully-fledged allied profession, Associates of and regulated by the RCVS under its Royal Charter powers. They are not the ‘laypeople’ whom the SI targeted in 1988. Notwithstanding the debatable question of whether castration is ‘entry into a body cavity’, the LWP recommends that veterinary nurses should be able to undertake this task under veterinary direction and supervision.

Future recommendations

36. The RCVS is also exploring additional options for enhancing the VN role that do not require changes to the Veterinary Surgeons Act. Research is currently being carried out into the risks and opportunities of a potential ‘VN prescriber’ role that could allow VNs to prescribe certain routine medicines that are currently restricted to veterinary surgeons. Recommendations may be brought to Council for decision in due course, based on the results of this research. Implementation of any recommendation would involve legislation to amend the Veterinary Medicines Regulations.