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Regulation of veterinary services under review

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) is seeking the views of the animal-owning public, together with veterinary surgeons, veterinary nurses, MP’s and other interested parties, on its proposals for updating the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966.

The RCVS is the statutory regulator for the veterinary profession. It undertakes the responsibilities set out in the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966, i.e. to maintain a register of veterinary surgeons eligible to practice in the UK, to regulate veterinary education in the UK and to regulate professional conduct. The Act also defines the composition of the RCVS Council and committees, which implement the provisions of the Act, and what constitutes the practice of veterinary surgery (the procedures primarily reserved to veterinary surgeons.)

The Act, which is nearly 40 years old, is based on an out-dated model for professional self-regulation and the RCVS believes that it needs to be brought into line with what is more appropriate for a professional regulatory body in the 21st century.

Over the last few years, the Government has stated more than once that it wishes to modernise the Act, and the RCVS Council wants to be prepared with its proposals when the Government makes parliamentary time available.

“Although there have been no Shipman-type cases in the veterinary sector, we believe it is better to learn from the way that circumstances have forced the medical and other professions to change their regulation. We are, therefore, taking pro-active steps before such challenges arise in the veterinary field. Via a new Act, the RCVS seeks to make the process of regulation for veterinary surgeons, and potentially other veterinary service providers, more open, transparent and acceptable,” outlines Roger Eddy, chairman of the RCVS working party which developed the proposals.


Since 1966, the way that veterinary services have been delivered to animal owners has changed a great deal. The role of the veterinary nurse has strengthened and other groups have developed. Currently some services provided by non-veterinary surgeons are unregulated, but the proposed revisions would mean the animal-owning public would benefit from a ‘one-stop-shop’ that they could contact to complain or seek advice about someone providing a service to their animal.

The public would also be assured that the procedures for ensuring veterinary surgeons and, potentially, other veterinary service providers are fit to practice would be fair and open.

“A particular area of concern is the current procedure for regulating professional conduct, which is somewhat out of step with both the expectations of the general public and the needs of the profession,” highlights Mr Eddy. “The Act also needs revising in light of the Human Rights Act 1998, which suggests that standard-setting must be independent from adjudication on those standards.”

In addition, the current provisions are reactive to complaints, whereas current regulatory practice suggests that the emphasis now should be on pro-active measures such as making sure standards are in place to help prevent things going wrong.

In order to keep pace with changes in the way that veterinary practices are owned and managed, it is also now necessary to regulate the delivery of veterinary services through the registration and inspection of practices themselves, whether owned by veterinary surgeons, corporations, charities or other bodies.

The VSA consultation document can be downloaded from the RCVS website at, and any member of the public is welcome to respond. The deadline for comments is 1 August 2005. It is not yet known when the Government will proceed with new legislation, but the College aims to have its revised proposals ready by the end of the year