At the 10 June 2021 meeting of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Council, members agreed to adopt the recommendations of the Legislation Working Party’s final report on its proposals for future veterinary legislation, representing the most comprehensive package of legislative reform proposals for the sector since the implementation of the 1966 Veterinary Surgeons Act.
The Legislative Reform Consultation took place between 4 November 2020 and 23 April 2021 and asked members of the veterinary professions and the public to give their responses to a package of proposals for future veterinary legislation that would, among other things, enhance the role of veterinary nurses, modernise RCVS registration, lead to a modern fitness to practise regime, and ensure the regulation of veterinary practices.
In total the consultation received 1,330 responses, of which 714 (54%) were from veterinary surgeons, 335 (25%) from veterinary nurses, 93 (7%) from veterinary paraprofessionals, 73 (5%) from student veterinary nurses, 58 (4%) from members of the public, 40 (3%) from veterinary and industry organisations, including representative bodies, and the remainder from veterinary students and veterinary practice managers. An analysis of the consultation responses covering each of the five core areas and their individual recommendations can be found in the final report, which is available at www.rcvs.org.uk/legislativereform
After considering this report, Council voted by a majority to accept the recommendations, meaning that they are now formally adopted as RCVS policy and will form the basis for discussions on the need for new legislation with the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra).
Professor Stephen May has chaired the Legislation Working Party that developed the proposal since its inception in 2017 when he was RCVS President. He said: “We are very grateful to those individuals and organisations who took the time to complete this very important consultation on recommendations for the future legislative framework for the professions. We also appreciate the candour of those who were unsure about or opposed to the recommendations.
“When the Legislation Working Party met to consider the responses and the report, it decided that, while no substantive changes needed to be made to the principle-based recommendations, the points raised both against and in favour of individual recommendations gave us important material for additional consideration, and food for thought as to how any detailed proposals would be implemented once enabling legislation is in place.
“We look forward to submitting these recommendations to Defra formally, with a view to them becoming, in time, a bill put before Parliament to replace the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966. In so doing, this would establish a modern, flexible and comprehensive piece of legislation that would make sure the regulatory structure for the veterinary professions is fit for purpose for decades to come.”
As well as the main report of the Legislative Reform Consultation, RCVS Council also considered a series of interim measures that would be in line with the overall aims of future legislative changes, but which could be implemented without primary legislation.
The proposed interim measures included:
- the establishment of smaller-scale (‘mini’) Preliminary Investigation Committees (PICs) to help streamline the concerns investigation process;
- the establishment of a Charter Case Protocol where certain cases that meet the threshold for a full disciplinary hearing, but which might be likely to attract a lesser sanction, may be concluded, without recourse to a full public Disciplinary Committee hearing, via a system of published warnings; and,
- changing the standard of proof in determining the facts of a case during a Disciplinary Committee hearing from the criminal standard (‘beyond all reasonable doubt’) to the civil standard (‘on the balance of probabilities’).
Council members voted on each of these interim measures on an individual basis – with the mini-PICs and the Charter Case Protocol being accepted by majority vote. However, Council members voted against implementing the change to the standard of proof at this time, citing a number of concerns about the potential impact of it being implemented under the current concerns investigation and disciplinary procedures. Similar concerns had been put forward by many of those who responded to the consultation itself.
Eleanor Ferguson, RCVS Registrar, said: “The approved procedural changes will, I believe, lead to a significant improvement in the efficiency and effectiveness of our disciplinary processes. The Charter Case Protocol will mean that, in suitable cases where a finding of serious professional misconduct at a full disciplinary hearing would likely only lead to a reprimand or to no further action being taken, a more proportionate and less time-consuming and expensive means of resolving cases will be available. However, it will still reflect the seriousness of the matters and continue to protect the public interest, welfare and the reputation of the profession.
“Furthermore, by phasing out the Case Examiner Group stage and instead referring concerns to ‘mini’ PICs, which will decide if the threshold of serious professional misconduct has been met, it will make our concerns investigation processes clearer and more streamlined and therefore more efficient. We look forward to publishing further details on both of these changes in due course.
“Although Council members accepted that a change of the standard of proof would be an integral part of introducing a modern fitness to practise (FTP) regime as part of any future legislation, they had significant concerns about the ‘interim’ recommendation to introduce it under the current arrangements, in advance of implementing a full FTP model, and so a majority felt that they could not vote for it.”
To read the full report of the Legislative Reform Consultation, including analysis of the responses, please visit www.rcvs.org.uk/legislativereform