Leading campaigners after handing in their petition to Buckingham Palace. Left to right Felicity Norton, Avril Critchley, Linda Marsden, JanMahoney and David Baine
A GROUP protesting against negligent vets handed a 5,000 name petition into Buckingham Palace, calling on the Queen to intervene in the call for tougher disciplinary measures against vets accused of incompetence.
The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has been accused by the groups members of running a cosy, secretive "closed shop" which tolerates serial malpractice.
The Action Group Against the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons wants to see the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 overhauled to make it made easier for pet owners to complain and for bad vets to be struck off. It is feared that hundreds of pets a year die from unauthorised surgery and cruelty by vets.
"Vets rely on the dumb good nature of their patients," said Janet Mahoney, a founder of the action group. "The animals can't speak, of course. So some vets get away with terrible neglect." She says the action group has 4,000 supporters. "We have had to stop taking personal testimonies because the stories were too horrific."
Next year the Government is expected to bring a new veterinary surgeons Bill to unexpected outcome, including death, which does not necessarily mean the vet was at fault. However, in February this year, anticipating the review of the Act by DEFRA, the RCVS launched its own review of the existing veterinary Surgeons Act and does, in fact, wish to see an independent ombudsman appointed, along with the campaigners views.
In September, the RCVS responded to an article in the Daily Telegraph which backed the campaigners position and issued a statement refuting much of what was written:
"The College is confident that everything within its power is done to ensure that all complaints will be investigated fully and fairly in accordance with its procedures. Indeed, some of the complaints referred to in this article have been comprehensively investigated over two or three years, and have not suddenly arisen within the past twelve months.
Inevitably, a legal dispute will leave one or other of the involved parties unhappy with the final decision and it is unfortunate if complainants to the RCVS do not feel that they have received justice.
"However, it is also perhaps worth noting that all surgery to animals (and humans) involves an element of risk and an unexpected outcome, including death, does not necessarily mean the veterinary surgeon was at fault. Medical treatment can be similarly unpredictable."
The Action Group Against the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons handed in their petition to the Queen, containing 5,878 signatures. The petition read - We the undersigned DEMAND a change in the way our animals are treated by the veterinary profession.
At present when things go wrong we have NO rights
We DEMAND an independent mediator of government ombudsman for us the pet consumer.
Complaints should not be dealt with by the RCVS
Vets-Vetting-Vets is no longer acceptable. (sic)
A spokesman for the RCVS commented: "Unfortunately, we have not been provided with a copy of the petition, so it is difficult for us to comment on it. However, we are currently co-operating with a DEFRA review of the Veterinary Surgeons Act, as we have previously said, and will always do our beat to ensure the highest standards of veterinary care."
RCVS STATEMENT ON REVIEW OF THE VETERINARY SURGEONS ACT:
The RCVS has for some time recognised that certain aspects of its regulatory powers under the existing Veterinary Surgeons Act (laid down in 1966) are in need of reform and has suggested as such to the Government. DEFRA has since announced its intention to consult on necessary changes.
In February this year, the RCVS launched its own review of the Act by publishing a consultation paper on the future of veterinary regulation and distributing it to its members.
This first stage of the consultation process will be followed by wider consultation with interested parties later this year.
Before DEFRA launches its consultation, the RCVS intends to have already reached some preliminary decisions about such issues as the composition of RCVS Council and Disciplinary Committee, changes to the disciplinary process and widening its powers to deal with different levels of veterinary misconduct.
DEFRA has been pleased that the RCVS has taken the initiative on this matter and it is hoped that DEFRA will find these decisions helpful when taking its own view in due course.
Currently, the RCVS only has the power to deal with serious misconduct, for which the sanction is to strike off or suspend the veterinary surgeon, thus preventing him or her from practising.
An alternative sanction is to postpone judgment on the veterinary surgeon until he or she has, for example, undertaken additional training in specific areas of practice or undergone treatment for health problems. In this way, the RCVS can monitor what the veterinary surgeon does.
Many of the complaints received are less serious than this however, although equally distressing to animal owners, and it is frustrating not to have a mechanism to refer such cases to a disciplinary hearing. The RCVS would like to have power to deal with these cases and to be better able to respond to the concerns of animal owners, hence its wish to review the Veterinary Surgeons Act.
It is also important to understand the difference between professional negligence and professional misconduct and what the RCVS is and is not able to consider.