RCVS launches landmark consultation on legislative and disciplinary reforms

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has launched a landmark consultation with the professions and the public on recommendations for wholesale reform of the legislative framework of the veterinary professions.

The consultation (available at www.rcvs.org.uk/legislativereform) covers the recommendations set out in the Report of the RCVS Legislation Working Party (LWP), which was approved for consultation by RCVS Council at its June 2020 meeting, plus proposed interim reforms to the disciplinary system that would bring the RCVS closer to regulatory best practice without the need for primary legislation.

The Report’s recommendations have been developed by the LWP over the course of three years. The working party was set up due to increasing concern that the current legislative basis for the veterinary professions, the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 and its various schedules and amendments, is overly burdensome, prescriptive, and therefore no longer fit-for-purpose and that new legislation that better reflects the current circumstances and principles of the vet-led team could be needed.

Professor Stephen May, Chair of the LWP and former RCVS President, commented: “I believe we truly have a set of historic recommendations in this report and this has been reflected in the long process taken to reach this point, taking the last three years, over the course of 12 meetings, to explore over 50 proposals for reform. The recommendations range from the relatively minor to the really significant, of which the fitness to practise and vet-led team proposals are among the most significant.

“Most importantly, I firmly believe that this new regulatory framework will provide greater assurances to the public of the high quality and safety of veterinary services, as well as providing individual veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses with the empowerment and support they deserve.

“Wherever you are in your veterinary career I do hope you can take the time to read through the recommendations of the Report in detail and provide comment on them through this consultation process.

“What we recommend here could end up forming the basis of how the veterinary professions are regulated and animals are safeguarded for decades to come, and so we want to know and consider your thoughts, feedback and, yes, constructive criticisms as part of the consultation process. These will be taken into consideration by RCVS Council.”

The key recommendations of the report include:

  • Embracing the vet-led team: this includes the statutory regulation of all members of the vet-led team including paraprofessionals not currently under the regulatory remit of the RCVS, in addition to other reforms such as statutory protection for veterinary titles (including ‘veterinary nurse’), more flexible powers of delegation, and the separation of delegation from employment.
  • Enhancing the veterinary nursing role: this recommendation covers extending the role of veterinary nurses in assisting with anaesthesia and allowing veterinary nurses to undertake cat castrations.
  • Assuring practice regulation: this recommendation includes granting the RCVS powers to regulate veterinary practices (and not just individual veterinary professionals) on a mandatory basis in order to assure practice standards are being met. Allied to this is granting the RCVS powers of entry to veterinary practices and the power to issue improvement notices to veterinary practices that are failing to meet minimum legal standards.
  • Introduce a modern ‘Fitness to Practise’ regime: this recommendation includes the introduction of the concept of ‘current impairment’ so that investigation and disciplinary procedures concentrate on an individual’s current fitness to practise rather than past misconduct. Allied to this are recommendations around widening grounds for investigation of professional misconduct, powers to impose interim orders to temporarily suspend the right to practise, allowing the review of suspension orders and introducing a wider range of sanctions. Other recommendations would allow the RCVS to more effectively manage investigations and cases, as well as reduce the length and cost of investigations.
  • Modernising RCVS registration: this recommendation includes provisions to allow limited licensure in principle, including in specific circumstances where a physical or other disability would limit the ability to work in all areas of practice. Other recommendations include giving the RCVS power to introduce revalidation processes, to ensure that veterinary professionals remain up-to-date and demonstrate that they continue to meet the requirements of their professional regulator as they are now, rather than when they first qualified, in line with other healthcare professions, and mandatory underpinning of the need for veterinary professionals to demonstrate they undertake continuing professional development (CPD).

Many of the above recommendations would require new primary legislation, and introducing the package as a whole would require a replacement for the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966.

As well as consulting on the Legislation Working Party’s Report and proposed recommendations on legislative changes, the RCVS will also be asking the profession and public for their views on three specific proposals on reforming the disciplinary system that do not require primary legislation in order to enact. These changes were developed by the RCVS separately from, but complementary to, the recommendations made by the LWP, and are designed to bring the College’s disciplinary processes closer to best practice in the short term, where feasible, without having to wait for the primary legislation essential to achieving the LWP recommendations in full.

These are:

  • a change to the standard of proof used in deciding whether or not the facts of a case are proven from the current criminal standard (‘beyond all reasonable doubt’), to the civil standard (‘on the balance of probabilities’). It is important to note that this standard is only applied to deciding on the facts of a case. The decision as to whether the proven facts amount of professional misconduct remains as currently;
  • the introduction of a ‘Charter Case Protocol,’ under which cases that meet the threshold for a full Disciplinary Committee hearing, but which might be likely to attract a low sanction, may be concluded without a public hearing. Suitable cases may include those where factors such as insight or remediation have been shown. Instead of a disciplinary hearing, the case may be concluded in a more proportionate manner, for example, via a system of publicly-issued warnings and/or advice;
  • to end the current system of initial review of complaints via a Case Examiners Group with the more complex of these cases then reviewed subsequently by the Preliminary Investigation Committee. Instead a single-stage review process with complaints considered by a number of ‘mini-Preliminary Investigation Committees’ with three members would be used.  This would simplify the system and potentially speed up the concerns investigation and disciplinary processes, thus reducing the stress of the process on all parties. Full Preliminary Investigation Committee meetings (involving five Committee members) would still take place to consider the most complex cases.

The consultation will run for 12 weeks, until Wednesday 27 January 2021, and you can undertake the online survey by visiting www.rcvs.org.uk/legislativereform

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