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23. Advertising and publicity
Updated 23 June 2020
23.1 Advertising and publicity may involve many forms with the aim of providing information to others and attracting new business. Any advertising and publicity should be professional, accurate and truthful. It should not be of a character likely to bring the profession into disrepute, eg an unsolicited approach by visit or telephone (although a telephone call to a business may not be considered unprofessional, provided that the data protection and marketing laws are complied with, and telephone preferences registered with the TPS or CTPS are respected). Advertising and publicity should not be misleading or exploit an animal owner's lack of veterinary knowledge. Practice websites and professional social media pages should be kept up to date.
Complying with GDPR
23.2 Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses undertaking electronic marketing will need the consent of the recipient (see paragraph 23.3 below), unless they can rely on a “soft opt-in” (see paragraph 23.4 below). Electronic marketing would include vaccination reminders and information regarding any promotions, but not appointment reminders or information about 24 emergency cover. There should be systems and processes in place to keep the consent up to date and veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses should comply promptly if the individual withdraws their consent. Particular care should be taken before sending any marketing material to clients of the practice who have not been seen for some time, as there may not be valid and up to date consent in place; or where it is unclear whether GDPR compliant consent has been obtained (see paragraph 23.3 below). Emailing clients to ask them to give consent to electronic marketing may in itself be direct marketing without consent, and therefore amount to a breach of data protection and/or direct marketing laws. Clients can still be contacted by post, on the basis that keeping in touch with them is in the practice’s legitimate interest.
23.3 Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses relying on consent for electronic marketing should ensure that (a) the client has given clear, specific and informed consent, and (b) the practice has records of the wording provided to the client at the time that consent was given, to show that the consent was “informed”. Consent should be freely given and there should be a specific opt-in by the client. It is not acceptable to rely on a pre-ticked box or infer consent from silence. Consent can include verbal consent but if relying on a discussion with a client a record should be made to this effect (for example, when this consent was obtained, what the client was told about how their data would be used and, for what purpose).
23.4 It may be possible to send direct marketing to existing clients without their specific consent, where (a) the practice obtained the client’s email address in the context of providing veterinary services; (b) the marketing relates to its own services, which are similar to those previously provided to the client; and (c) the client was clearly given the opportunity to opt out of email marketing at the time their email address was collected, and each time a marketing email is sent. This is known as a “soft opt-in”, and could apply, for example, to vaccination reminders where the client has previously paid for vaccinations. The practice would have a legitimate interest in sending such marketing emails. However if the practice does not have records that the opt-out information was given when the email address was collected, it should not rely on the soft opt-in for email marketing. If the opt-out information was given to some clients but not others, the practice can only rely on the soft-opt in for the relevant clients, and should divide its database accordingly for marketing purposes.
Complying with UK advertising codes
23.5 All publicity should comply with the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (CAP Code) which is enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority.
23.6 Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses planning to conduct a direct marketing campaign should comply with all relevant data protection legislation. Advice and guidance can be sought from the Information Commissioner's Office and there is useful information on database practice at section 10 of the CAP Code.
23.7 Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses planning to produce advertisements or publicity which make claims of superiority or other comparisons with competitors should have particular regard to section 3 of the CAP Code so as to ensure they do not mislead the public or be accused of so doing.
23.8 Concerns about particular advertisements and publicity should generally be raised with the Advertising Standards Authority in the first instance (or the Information Commissioner's Office where the concerns relate to the use of personal data).
Use of the courtesy title 'Doctor' or 'Dr'
23.9 Nothing prevents veterinary surgeons using the courtesy title 'Doctor' or 'Dr' ('the title') if they wish to, however veterinary surgeons using the title must be careful not to mislead the public.
23.10 A courtesy title does not reflect academic attainment, instead it is associated with professional standing. As a result, it is important that the use of 'Doctor' or 'Dr' by a veterinary surgeon does not suggest or imply that they hold a medical qualification or a PhD when they do not.
23.11 As a result, if the title is used, the veterinary surgeon should use the title in conjunction with:
(a) their name; and
(b) the descriptor 'veterinary surgeon'; or
(c) the post-nominal letters 'MRCVS'.
For example: 'Dr Alex Smith, veterinary surgeon' or 'Dr Alex Smith MRCVS'.
23.12 Veterinary surgeons must not hold out themselves or others as specialists or advanced practitioners unless appropriately listed with the RCVS, or as veterinary nurses unless appropriately registered with the RCVS.
23.13 Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses should not allow organisations to make misleading or inaccurate claims on their behalf.
Guidance on the use of titles
23.14 The specialist list (RCVS Recognised Specialist List) is a list of veterinary surgeons, who meet certain entry criteria and are entitled to use a specialist title. The purpose of the specialist list is to provide a clear indication to the profession and the public of those veterinary surgeons who have been accredited as specialists by the RCVS or by a recognised speciality college. Continued inclusion on the specialist list requires veterinary surgeons to undertake periodic revalidation. For more information about entry criteria and revalidation please see the Specialist status web page.
23.15 Veterinary surgeons do not have to join the specialist list to practise any particular specialty, but they must be registered with the RCVS and included on the RCVS specialist list if they want to practise in the UK and use the title ‘specialist’, or imply they are a specialist. This includes veterinary surgeons seeking to use such titles, or allowing others to use such titles, in connection with their business, trade, employment, or profession.
23.16 Only veterinary surgeons on the RCVS specialist list may use the title ‘specialist’ or ‘RCVS Recognised Specialist’ or imply they are a specialist. Specialists on the RCVS specialist list may also use an appropriate title conferred by their speciality college.
23.17 Veterinary surgeons who are not on the specialist list should not use the title ‘specialist’ or imply they are a specialist, for example, they should not use such wording as ‘specialising in ’. They may however use terms such as ‘having a special interest in…’, ‘experienced in…’ or ‘practice limited to…’ when promoting their services.
23.18 The advanced practitioner list is a list of veterinary surgeons, who meet certain entry criteria and are entitled to use this title. The purpose of the advanced practitioner list is to provide a clear indication to the profession and the public of those veterinary surgeons who have been accredited at postgraduate certificate level by the RCVS, by virtue of having demonstrated knowledge and experience in a particular area of veterinary practice beyond their initial primary veterinary degree as well as undertaking additional CPD. Continued inclusion on the advanced practitioner list requires veterinary surgeons to undertake periodic revalidation. For more information about entry criteria and revalidation please see the Advanced Practitioner status web page.
23.19 Veterinary surgeons must be registered with the RCVS and included on the RCVS advanced practitioner list if they want to practise in the UK and use the title ‘advanced practitioner’, or imply they are an ‘advanced practitioner’. This includes veterinary surgeons seeking to use such titles, or allowing others to use such titles, in connection with their business, trade, employment, or profession.
23.20 Veterinary surgeons on the advanced practitioner list may use the title 'Advanced Practitioner'.
23.21 The legal restrictions on advertising medicines and publishing medicine prices are set out in the Veterinary Medicines Regulations and associated Veterinary Medicines Guidance issued by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate.
Public life and interaction with the media
23.22 Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses can make a worthwhile contribution to the promotion of animal welfare and responsible pet ownership by taking part in public life, whether in national or local politics, community service, or involvement with the media (including press, television, radio or the internet).
23.23 In commenting to the media, veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses should ensure they distinguish between personal opinion, political belief and established facts. Veterinary surgeons should declare any relevant conflicts of interest when interacting with the media.
23.24 A veterinary surgeon or veterinary nurse should be careful not to express, or imply, that his or her view is shared by other veterinary surgeons or veterinary nurses or a professional organisation to which veterinary surgeons or veterinary nurses belong, unless previously authorised, for example, by the RCVS, British Veterinary Association, British Veterinary Nursing Association or other professional body.
23.25 A veterinary surgeon or veterinary nurse should not endorse a veterinary product or service.
23.26 Endorsement of a product or service may take many forms, for example, celebrity endorsement, where the reputation of the veterinary surgeon or veterinary nurse is linked with the product or service; and/or professional, where the professional qualification is associated with the product or service.
23.27 Endorsement can be explicit or implicit, imperative or co-presentational.
23.28 Veterinary products and services may include the supply or prescription of medicines, the diagnosis of disease, the treatment and tests of animals, vaccination services and other activities that may be described as part of the practice of veterinary surgery. In addition, there are a number of retail products that may be sold by veterinary surgeons or veterinary nurses which may not be readily regarded as veterinary products or services, but when associated with, or sold by, veterinary surgeons or veterinary nurses may be regarded as ‘veterinary’ products, particularly if specific veterinary advice is given. These may include nutritional supplements, shampoos, dog leads, chewy toys and pet foods, including prescription diets.
23.29 Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses may endorse non-veterinary products and services, provided such endorsement does not bring the profession into disrepute.
Claims of general veterinary approval
23.30 An organisation claiming ‘general’ veterinary approval for a product or service has particular significance for veterinary surgeons or veterinary nurses employed by the organisation, which, for example, may be promoting its own range of veterinary products. The organisation will need to be able to justify any such claims made, for example, by market research.
23.31 Any such endorsement should not erode the clinical freedom of individual veterinary surgeons or veterinary nurses employed by, or associated with, the organisation, or imply that veterinary surgeons or veterinary nurses employed or associated with the organisation endorse a veterinary product or service. For example, describing a product as 'veterinary approved' suggests endorsement by the profession as a whole or by a number of veterinary surgeons.