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Part 3: Assuring practice regulation

Recommendation 3.1: Mandatory practice regulation

37. Unlike other sectors, there is no body responsible for regulating veterinary practices.  In human healthcare the Care Quality Commission fulfils this role, and some overseas veterinary regulators such as the Veterinary Council of Ireland have this responsibility. At present, the RCVS has no mandatory powers to regulate veterinary practices. This is increasingly at odds with a world in which practices may not be owned by the individual veterinary surgeons whom the RCVS does regulate. It is reasonable for the public to expect that all practices are assessed to ensure that they meet at least the basic minimum legal requirements, and at present this assurance is not in place for all practices.

38. The RCVS Practice Standards Scheme (PSS) has been very successful in assuring standards, and a recent ‘reboot’ of the scheme has increased membership to 68% of veterinary practices. Whilst non-PSS practices might be meeting core standards, there is no guarantee or assurance that this is the case – this is not consistent with our aims re animal welfare and public protection. The RCVS has sought to address this via the Code of Professional Conduct. However, as the Code only applies to individual veterinary surgeons this does not necessarily sit easy with responsibilities at practice level where individuals will have varying degrees of control over practice decisions and policies, and therefore creates a greater responsibility for more junior members of staff than might be considered reasonable.

39. The LWP therefore recommends that the RCVS be given the power to implement mandatory practice regulation, including powers of entry, should RCVS Council decide to complement the PSS with a universally-applied scheme.

Recommendation 3.2: Powers of entry for the RCVS

40. The RCVS has no power of entry, meaning it does not have the right to enter a veterinary practice without consent. In most cases, this does not pose a problem in terms of investigating allegations of serious professional misconduct. However, where there are allegations that a veterinary surgeon has breached paragraph 4.3 of the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct, which states that ‘veterinary surgeons must maintain minimum practice standards equivalent to the Core Standards of the RCVS Practice Standards Scheme [PSS]’, powers of entry would be useful. This is because, if a veterinary surgeon refuses entry, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the RCVS to investigate allegations of this nature.

41. While it is rare for other regulators to have powers of entry, human healthcare premises, for example, hospitals, GP surgeries and care homes, are regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) which has powers of entry and may carry out unannounced inspections. The LWP recommends that the RCVS be given powers of entry in order to remedy this omission in the veterinary sector, and to ensure that regulation of practices can be underpinned and enforced.

Recommendation 3.3: Power to issue improvement notices

42. The LWP recommends that the RCVS be granted the power to issue improvement notices when a person or a business is failing to fulfil a legal duty, and where improvement is required to ensure future compliance. This would provide better protection for the public, while being a more proportionate response than pursuing a disciplinary case. Improvement notices provide practices with a clear and concrete action plan to remedy any deficiencies