An online course designed to help veterinary professionals prevent and resolve complaints has been launched by the RCVS Academy.
The move comes after figures revealed disciplinary committee hearings accounted for less than 0.5% of all concerns raised with the body last year.
But college officials have also faced calls for greater “consideration” of professionals who are the subject of complaints.
The new programme – developed in partnership with the Veterinary Client Mediation Service (VCMS), which the college funds – offers practical examples of how to assess complaints from a client’s viewpoint and the importance of client relationships in defusing issues.
It is the second to be developed in the academy’s “Concerns support” section, following a course on responding to complaints in a confident and compassionate manner, and is expected to take about an hour to complete.
VCMS head Jennie Jones said: “Leveraging insights from the VCMS and involving our entire team with its production has enabled us to develop highly effective materials that ensure veterinary professionals are well equipped to manage complaints.”
BVA Live debate
The launch of the course follows a “myth-busting” discussion of the college’s disciplinary processes that was held as part of BVA Live in Birmingham.
College registrar Eleanor Ferguson told the session a total of 3,219 concerns were raised with the body in 2022.
Although around one in six of those (544) became cases, only 15 (0.46%) progressed to a full disciplinary hearing.
Of those, only three were for clinical matters and the subjects of two of those cases had previously faced proceedings. The most common reason for referral to a disciplinary panel was a criminal conviction.
Ms Ferguson said the disciplinary process was required under the Veterinary Surgeons Act, as well as to maintain both animal welfare and public confidence in the professions.
But she also acknowledged the limits of the present system and the reforms sought by both the college and others, adding: “We do desperately need new legislation.”
Ms Ferguson also insisted the college did not seek to punish people simply for making mistakes, and said cases where professionals were struck off the register were in single figures.
She added the college provided funding to support the work of Vetlife and had set up its vet client mediation service to deal with concerns raised.
BVA policy committee member Julie Gibson said complaints had accounted for 5% of all the contacts to Vetlife in 2022, with disciplinary matters accounting for 3%.
The session also heard concerns about the length of time taken to bring cases to a panel hearing and that greater support was needed earlier in the process.
Ms Ferguson said the college seeks to end all cases that progress to a second phase process within a year, or within seven months for simpler situations.
She added she was “disappointed” to hear of a lack of support being offered to staff facing complaints by their own colleagues in practice.
But Elizabeth Law-Bartle, who has previously called for changes to the college’s disciplinary procedures, questioned how staff would know a colleague was facing a process unless they disclosed it to them.
She said her experience had been made easier because her manager had also faced charges in relation to the case.
Mrs Law-Bartle, who has compiled an online guide for professionals going through the disciplinary process based on her experience, also questioned whether a separate regulatory body – such as the General Medical Council in human medicine – was required to judge cases.
A speaker from the floor said he was “more frightened” of a potential disciplinary related to a late‑night case and asked if the college could show greater “consideration” in the area.
Ms Ferguson said consultations on other subjects had shown the concept of 24/7 care remained important to the profession.
Credit to: College disciplinary defence as complaints course launches (Vet Times)
Vet Times. (2023). College disciplinary defence as complaints course launches [online]
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