VEGA's response to the consultation - time to bring vets in line
1. Council of the RCVS. Proposals
1.1 The veterinary equivalent of the Hippocratic vow for doctors should precede all other material in the Act: that the vet endeavours to do his/her utmost for the welfare (or well-being) of the animals in (or committed to) his or her care (your para 7 and the following).
1.2 Definitions of client, customer, and stakeholder groups must be sharpened, especially to allow – in contrast with, say, doctors and their charges- the indirect way in which the vets’ patients have to voice their requirements for beneficial treatment. Animal welfare groups employ members of the RCVS and thus qualify as clients, customers, stakeholders, and lay members.
1.3 Representations based on specific groups may entail disproportionate attention to the numbers and plight of the various species involved and to the commercial interests of the practitioners and the demands of their discipline. These are changes occurring rapidly at the present time, e.g. the intake of males and females into the profession and the perception of more lucrative and pleasanter prospects on offer in practices specialising in pets and companion animals, than in, say, farming and large animal practice, as well as in the poultry and fishing industries and inattentions to wildlife and various supervisory duties, in which the demand for the vet’s attentions and the number of animals in the profession’s constituency is much greater. Specifications must also not disadvantage small groups with often-overlooked responsibilities, e.g. in the control of zoos, circuses, racing, collections of exotic species, slaughterhouses, knackers’ yards etc., for which Council membership would add status in functions demanding valour in unpleasant conditions.
2. Supervision of Professional Competence (your para 13 and following)
2.1 In defence of the vet in discharge of his duties he should be awarded the status of a police constable in the event of an attack by a client, customer, owner, or keeper of an animal, and the vet must carry full insurance against the possibilities of such attack or by a patient (i.e. the animal) and the consequences of proceedings arising from cruelties ensuing upon such events. Risks from zoonotic diseases are above-average for vets, who must insure themselves accordingly when they enter training for their tasks; and they must maintain thereafter appropriate levels of protection and immunisation for themselves and, by good practice, to avoid spread of pathogens.
3. Disciplinary Committee
3.1 We prefer your third option (your para 20)
4.1 We agree with the questions on training, competence, experience, and registration you set the professions for answers (your para 27).
4.2 Vets cannot be expected to be omni-competent over all species and all bodily organs and functions. A GP cannot manifest single-handed proficiency in respiratory, musculoskeletal, haematological, immunological, gynaecological, psychological etc. disorders, these being specialisations in training and development gained by appropriate instruction and accreditation. As with doctors, vets must provide evidence throughout their professional lives of career development provided by independent academic trainers (i.e. not by commercial concerns or employers). In practice, this means that an ordinarily qualified vet could deal with most common eventualities and emergencies in companion animals and farmed livestock, but would be guilty of irresponsibility if he/she failed to refer the case to an independent practitioner with necessary and relevant special qualifications. The jack-of-all-trades GP must concede obeisance, as necessary, to recognised specialists and consultants in matters such as animal behaviour, trading in pets (including exotics, birds and fish) fishing, fish farming etc. (of your para 28).
4.3 Your para 29 should be deleted and rewritten, as it biases and exaggerates risks and the underlying causes, among which professional shortcomings, connivances and indifferences may be included. Any job entailing control, regulation and policing (which will extend to protection against terrorism) unfortunately attracts threats of injury and damage. Vets involved in the live/deadstock trade (e.g. the MHS and in monitoring livestock markets) have suffered assaults from within the industry (including the murder of a Belgian vet a year or two ago) more serious than the deplorable manifestations of violence by objectors to the understandably emotional and frustrated rage of “animal rights extremists” to practices over which the vets’ demonstrations of the profession’s vows are found to be costive and treacherous. An industry depending on routine assaults and battery in any language does not evince the loftiest elements of human behaviour. Vets must not jib at the challenge by resort to secrecy; far better to follow, as we have emphasised in other contexts, openness and responsible dialogue with the public that accepts the need for some mitigations in avoidable massacres and tortures of animals who do the profession and public no harm. The medical profession in most civilised countries opposes death sentences but accepts the need as accomplices to exercise what mercy is theirs left to offer. Vets must shoulder their parallel responsibilities. Exemptions in disclosures of addresses and means of communication should be granted only in cases of severe threats and accompanies by statements from the police.
4.4 We advocate therefore a reduction of strife with a beneficial approach to animal welfare involving participation to that end by all parties with a minimum of secrecy and withdrawal. Your list of consultees includes some with good records of animal welfare investigations where the veterinary profession has been found inadequate. In modern terms the media, private investigators, and whistleblowers can circumvent the obstacles that secretive vets may try to construct and the revelations and consequences in their sensational way may avail cause of animal welfare less than a sustained, open, and informed eradication of bad practice.
5. Continuing Professional Development
5.1 Animal behaviour and welfare must feature more strongly in curricula in veterinary training, to meet the profession’s claims for trust in welfare matters (cf. our previous remarks). This entails closer liaison with disciplines such as zoology, physiology and genetics and with precept and practice in the conduct of FAWC’s Five Freedoms.
6. Definition of Veterinary Surgery within the VSA
6.1 Devolvement of deregulated procedures must still be included among the responsibilities of a MRCVS. No opportunity must be lost in allowing access of independent vets to farms, labs, zoos etc. in the interests of specialised competence and general surveillance. Excessive prescription of drugs or surgical procedures by clients’ own practitioners or by a “company vet” must be curtailed. On the other hand, the profession must ensure that aversion to treatments with pharmaceutical drugs, e.g. for adherence to “alternative” and “organic” regimens or to reduce losses of production due to withdrawal periods, (e.g. in live/deadstock farming), do not compromise the animals’ welfare; means of relieving pain and of isolating, nursing and housing injured and ailing animals should be provided suitably at the vet’s or the client’s premises.
6.2 Much more auxiliary competence at the level of veterinary nurses is needed, especially in units involved in commercial enterprises, e.g. farms and labs. As with human medicine, much more use can be made of non-invasive diagnostics and biochemical markers and procedures. Invasive procedure must be judged case-by-case and with respect to Home Office regulations, e.g. on injections, insertions and minor surgery (which could include cleaning and clipping of teeth and claws, and the docking of tails).
Dr. Alan Long
Hon Research Adviser