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23. Advertising, endorsement, and publicity
Updated 29 June 2022
23.1 The purpose of advertising is usually to provide information to the public and attract new business. There are many different forms of advertising (including the recommendation, endorsement, and/or promotion of veterinary products and services) and publicity can be achieved across multiple media, including but not limited to, printed materials, websites, and social media platforms (see Chapter 28 for specific guidance in relation to social media and online networking forums).
23.2 Veterinary products include prescription medicines and other products that may be used as part of the practice of veterinary surgery, as well as retail products that, although not veterinary products in and of themselves, become so when associated with, or are sold by, veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses. For example, nutritional supplements, shampoos, dog leads, chewy toys, and pet foods, including prescription diets.
23.3 Veterinary services include the prescribing of medicines, the diagnosis of disease, the treatment and tests of animals, vaccination services, and other services that may be offered as part of the practice of veterinary surgery.
Forms of advertising
23.4 Where the word ‘advertising’ is used in this chapter, it should be read to include all forms of advertising. The RCVS defines these different forms of advertising as follows:
a. Advertisement - the dissemination of information with the aim of informing the public about a veterinary product or service.
b. Endorsement – the association of a veterinary surgeon or veterinary nurse with a veterinary product or service with the aim of encouraging the public to buy or use the veterinary product or service based on the support or approval of the veterinary surgeon or veterinary nurse.
c. Promotion – the dissemination of information with the aim of increasing the sales or use of a veterinary product or service.
d. Publicity – the dissemination of information with the aim of attracting attention to a veterinary product or service.
e. Recommendation - a suggestion or specific veterinary advice stating that a veterinary product or service is good, suitable, or the best choice for a particular purpose or animal.
23.5 All advertising should be accurate, truthful, and not of a character likely to bring the profession into disrepute or undermine public confidence in veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses. All advertising should provide factual and balanced information which enables the public to make informed choices about the veterinary products and services available to their animals.
23.6 Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses should only endorse veterinary products and services that are underpinned by sound scientific principles or have a recognised evidence base. All advertising that promotes or publicises an endorsement of a veterinary product or service should provide factual and verifiable information only and not be of a character likely to bring the profession into disrepute.
23.7 Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses should ensure they do not expressly or implicitly suggest that their endorsement is shared by the whole profession. Veterinary nurses should ensure that their endorsement does not amount to, or give the impression of, the giving of advice or recommendation of a treatment option based upon a diagnosis.
23.8 Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses may endorse non-veterinary products and services so long as that endorsement does not bring the profession into disrepute and any relevant legislation or regulation applicable to those non-veterinary products and services is complied with. Please see Chapter 9 for guidance in relation to animal insurance.
Recommendations in the course of treatment or when providing other veterinary services to clients
23.9 Where veterinary surgeons recommend veterinary products and services in the course of treatment or when providing other veterinary services to clients (including by way of referrals and second opinions – please see Chapter 1), this recommendation should be clinically justified, i.e., based on sound scientific principles or have a recognised evidence base, and be in the best interests of the animal.
23.10 Veterinary surgeons should not allow any interest in a particular product or service to affect the way they prescribe or make recommendations. This is the case whether the interest is held by the veterinary surgeon themselves, their employer, or any other organisation they are associated with. Veterinary surgeons should inform clients of any real or perceived conflict of interest.
UK advertising codes and claims of general veterinary approval
23.11 All advertising 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.
23.12 Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses who make claims of superiority or other comparisons with competitors should have regard to section 3 of the CAP Code and should not mislead the public.
23.13 Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses who manufacture their own veterinary products, for example, health supplements, may make claims about the health benefits of those products only where they hold ‘robust clinical evidence’ to support them (see rule 12.1 of the CAP Code). Claims to treat adverse conditions are likely to be considered medicinal claims and should only be made for licenced veterinary medicines in accordance with the relevant guidance linked at paragraph 23.18 below.
23.14 An organisation claiming ‘general’ veterinary approval for a product or service should also ensure it complies with the CAP Code.
23.15 Claims of ‘general’ veterinary approval should not suggest that the whole profession endorses those veterinary products or services. Claims of this kind are regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority through the CAP Code. Where an organisation makes a claim of ‘general’ veterinary approval, there should be no suggestion that veterinary surgeons or veterinary nurses employed by, or associated with, the organisation, endorse those veterinary products or services, unless those veterinary surgeons or veterinary nurses have expressly agreed to do so. Where express agreement is sought from employees to claim endorsement on their behalf, it should be made clear that the employee may opt out. Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses should not feel under any pressure to endorse their employer’s products, and clauses requiring endorsement of products and services as part of contracts of employment should be avoided so that clinical freedom is maintained (see paragraph 23.20, below). Where veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses freely choose to endorse the products or services of their employer, they should do so in accordance with the guidance in this chapter.
23.16 Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses should not allow organisations to suggest that they endorse a veterinary product or service unless they expressly agree to do so, in compliance with the guidance in this chapter.
23.17 Concerns about advertisements should be raised with the Advertising Standards Authority in the first instance.
Advertising veterinary medicines
23.18 In relation to advertising veterinary medicines, veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses should not make medicinal claims about unlicensed products. When advertising licenced veterinary medicines, including the publishing of medicines prices, veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses should comply with the Veterinary Medicines Regulations and associated guidance on advertising veterinary medicines legally, issued by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD).
23.19 Concerns about the advertisement of unlicensed products should be raised with the VMD’s enforcement team in the first instance.
Maintaining clinical freedom
23.20 Advertisements, endorsements, or claims of ‘general’ veterinary approval made by organisations should not impact upon the clinical freedom and decision-making of veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses employed by, or associated with, that organisation.
23.21 Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses should not allow any interests, including those arising from associations with particular organisations or products, to affect their clinical decision-making, i.e. they must make animal health and welfare their first consideration when attending to animals.
Advertising by email and GDPR
23.22 Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses undertaking email marketing will need the consent of the recipient (see paragraph 23.23 below), unless they can rely on a “soft opt-in” (see paragraph 23.24 below). Email marketing would include vaccination reminders and information regarding any promotions, but not appointment reminders or information about 24-hour emergency first aid and pain relief. There should be systems and processes in place to keep consent up to date and veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses should comply promptly if an individual withdraws their consent. Care should be taken before sending any email marketing 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 23.23 below). Emailing clients to ask them to give consent to email marketing may amount to direct marketing without consent, and therefore be a breach of data protection and/or direct marketing laws. Clients can be contacted by post on the basis that keeping in touch with them is in the practice’s legitimate interest.
23.23 Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses relying on consent for email 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 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. If relying on a discussion with a client, a record should be made to this effect (for example, when the consent was obtained, what the client was told about how their data would be used and, for what purpose).
23.24 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 to others, the practice can only rely on the soft-opt in for the relevant clients and should divide its database accordingly for marketing purposes.
Advertising of professional status and qualifications
23.25 The RCVS Advanced Practitioner List (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.
23.26 Veterinary surgeons must be registered with the RCVS and included on the 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.
23.27 Veterinary surgeons on the advanced practitioner list may use the title 'Advanced Practitioner'.
23.28 The RCVS Specialist List is a list of veterinary surgeons who meet certain entry criteria and are entitled to use the title ‘specialist’. 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. 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.
23.29 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 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.
23.30 Only veterinary surgeons on the specialist list may use the title ‘specialist’ or ‘RCVS Recognised Specialist’ or imply they are a ‘specialist’. Specialists on the specialist list may also use an appropriate title conferred by their speciality college.
23.31 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 terms 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.
The courtesy title 'Doctor' or 'Dr'
23.32 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.
23.33 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 human medical qualification or a PhD if they do not.
23.34 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'.
23.35 Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses should not hold themselves or others out as veterinary surgeons, veterinary nurses, specialists, or advanced practitioners unless they are appropriately registered or listed as such with the RCVS.
23.36 Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses should not allow organisations to make misleading or inaccurate claims on their behalf.
Public life and interaction with the media
23.37 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).
23.38 In commenting to the media, veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses should ensure they distinguish between personal opinion, political belief, and established facts. Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses should declare any relevant conflicts of interest when interacting with the media.
23.39 A veterinary surgeon or veterinary nurse should be careful not to express or imply that their view is shared by other veterinary surgeons or veterinary nurses or a professional organisation to which they belong, unless previously authorised, for example, by the RCVS, British Veterinary Association, British Veterinary Nursing Association, or other professional body.