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My constituent is unhappy with their veterinary surgeon
Many complaints can be resolved directly with the practice concerned so if it is possible to discuss the complaint either with the veterinary surgeon involved or a senior partner this may be the best option for your constituent.
Complaining to the RCVS
If your constituent considers that the veterinary surgeon has behaved in a way that may amount to disgraceful conduct in a professional respect then we advise your constituent to telephone our Professional Conduct Department on 020 7222 2001.
Department staff will be happy to discuss the situation and may be able to indicate whether a complaint is one we can deal with, or how we have resolved similar complaints and will send them a complaints form. If your constituent has a disability or other difficulty with forms, they can contact us so that we can help them.
We produce a guide for people making complaints, which your constituent may find useful. This sets out the complaints procedure and what we can and cannot do.
We expect people to make any complaint within two years of an incident and will not normally investigate complaints beyond this time limit.
If there is a dispute over whether a bill must be paid, this is a matter to be resolved between the parties or by the civil courts, not the RCVS.
If your constituent decides to make a formal complaint, this will then be considered under the RCVS complaints procedure.
When we receive a formal complaint we assess whether it falls within our jurisdiction.
We can only take action against a veterinary surgeon, such as removal or suspension from the Register, if the complaint falls within our jurisdiction and the facts of the case have been proven at a hearing of the RCVS Disciplinary Committee to the standard ‘so as to be sure’.
However, we can give formal advice to a veterinary surgeon even if the complaint does not result in a Disciplinary Committee hearing.
My constituent has made a complaint – what happens next?
Once we receive a complaint form, the complaint may go through up to four decision-making stages before it can be concluded. These stages are: assessment, investigation and case examination, Preliminary Investigation Committee decision and a Disciplinary Committee hearing.
First, we need to decide if the complaint involves an issue of conduct – how the vet has behaved - that could amount to serious professional conduct. This assessment is done by a case manager – a legally-qualified member of staff such as a barrister or solicitor. We try to complete this assessment within ten working days of receiving the complaint form.
If no issue of conduct is found that could amount to serious professional misconduct, we close the case. We write to the complainant to tell them what we have done and why. We do not make public any complaint that is closed at this stage.
If the complaint involves a conviction it will usually proceed to the next stage.
Investigation and case examination stage
If we find there is an issue of conduct that could amount to serious professional misconduct, we investigate the case to get more information and then decide if there is an arguable case against a veterinary surgeon.
Investigation means that we may contact the complainant and/or the veterinary surgeon complained about and/or the veterinary surgeon’s employer. Sometimes we visit the veterinary practice and interview the veterinary surgeon complained about, or other staff. We may also visit the complainant and other witnesses in order to investigate the complaint.
Two case examiners - generally a veterinary surgeon who is a member of the Preliminary Investigation Committee and a Lay Observer (who is not a veterinary surgeon and is independent of the RCVS) decide if there is an arguable case against the veterinary surgeon.
If there is no arguable case, then we close the complaint and may give advice to the veterinary surgeon. We tell the complainant why we have closed the case and, if we give advice to the veterinary surgeon, we tell them the nature of that advice. We do not make public any complaints that are closed at this stage.
If there is an arguable case, the complaint is referred to the Preliminary Investigation Committee. Complaints involving a conviction will usually be referred to the Preliminary Investigation Committee.
Preliminary Investigation Committee stage
The Preliminary Investigation Committee (PI Committee) is a statutory committee under the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966. Sitting on the Committee are six veterinary surgeons from the RCVS Council, including the RCVS President, and Senior Vice-President (Past-President) and Junior Vice-President (President-Elect). Lay Observers, who are not veterinary surgeons, observe PI Committee meetings. The PI Committee meets 11 times a year in private.
The job of the PI Committee is to decide if there is a realistic prospect of proving a case against a veterinary surgeon. The Committee can ask for more investigation so it has all the information it needs to make a decision. This investigation may involve external solicitors.
If the PI Committee decides there is no realistic prospect of proving the case we close the complaint and may also give formal advice to the veterinary surgeon complained about. We tell the complainant why we have closed the case and, if we give advice to the veterinary surgeon, we tell them the nature of that advice. We do not make public any complaints that are closed at this stage.
Disciplinary Committee hearing stage
The Disciplinary Committee is a judicial tribunal constituted under the 1966 Veterinary Surgeons Act and anyone, including the press, may attend Disciplinary Committee hearings. The hearing follows rules of evidence and procedure similar to those used in a court of law.
At a hearing, the Disciplinary Committee is supported with legal advice from a Legal Assessor, usually a senior barrister or retired judge. The RCVS legal team acts for the RCVS in progressing the complaint against the veterinary surgeon. The RCVS pays for these legal fees, not the person who made the complaint.
The veterinary surgeon answering the complaint may also have legal representation. Witnesses, which will usually at least include the complainant and the veterinary surgeon, will be called to give evidence under oath or non-religious affirmation.
If your constituent is appearing as a witness they will be given a copy of the RCVS Witness Information Pack before the hearing. This explains what they need to bring with them and what will happen on the day. If they have any questions or concerns about the hearing they can phone Professional Conduct Department staff on: 0207 222 2001 to discuss these. The RCVS will reimburse the travel expenses of witnesses.
After the case the witnesses and the person making the complaint will be informed of the outcome. The RCVS publicises the details of complaints that are upheld both through RCVSonline and directly to the media.
Appealing against disciplinary process decisions
After the Disciplinary Committee has announced its decisions, including any sanctions, there is a 28-day period during which the veterinary surgeon may appeal to the Privy Council. If no appeal is lodged, then the decision stands.
Both veterinary surgeons and people complaining against them may use the civil courts to seek a judicial review of how the RCVS has handled the complaint.
Please also see ‘How to complain about the RCVS’.