On Monday 3 November 2014 we began a six-month trial for a new alternative dispute resolution service in order to develop a system to address the many concerns we receive that we cannot deal with under statutory powers.
Although it is our legal responsibility to investigate all concerns raised with us, we are limited to dealing with only the most serious of concerns raised about a veterinary surgeon’s or registered veterinary nurse’s fitness to practise.
Such cases make up only a small portion of the complaints we receive and most concerns are closed with no further action. This, however, leaves many people with no alternative form of redress.
With this trial we are hoping to determine how we might set up a permanent scheme that would allow those concerns that do not meet our criteria, but which may be legitimate, to be dealt with in a way that is satisfactory to both the complainant and the veterinary surgeon*.
The trial will be administered by the Ombudsman Services, an independent and not-for-profit complaint mediation service. Participation in the trial is voluntary, as both parties must agree to take part, and is also free to users.
How will the trial work?
The trial will last for six months and will be limited to no more than 150 concerns against veterinary surgeons relating to the treatment of small animals (for example, cats, dogs, hamsters or guinea pigs). Appropriate concerns will be identified by our Professional Conduct Department who will then seek the consent of both the veterinary surgeon and the person raising the concern before referring it to the Ombudsman Services. In most cases concerns referred to the trial will have no arguable case for professional misconduct.
The Ombudsman Services will then investigate the circumstances of the concern with the aid of three veterinary advisors who will give guidance on clinical and other veterinary matters.
Decisions will be reached by a process of conciliation rather than arbitration and recommendations will be made which either party is entitled to accept, or not.
Recommendations could include, for example, financial accommodation up to the small claims court limit of £10,000 (although the average recommendation made by the Ombudsman Services is around £100), the issuing of an apology or other practical action to remedy the situation.
What is the aim of the trial?
The aim of the trial will be to provide a potential framework for a fully developed scheme and to find answers to the following questions:
- What proportion of cases is brought to a satisfactory conclusion through conciliation alone with no power to impose a solution?
- What types of case are, and are not, satisfactorily resolved?
- Do most veterinary surgeons cooperate with the trial?
- Do complainants feel they have been helped and are they happy with the outcome?
- How quickly are cases resolved?
- Is the operation of the scheme through a third party advantageous or does it create problems?
How will the trial be monitored?
The trial has an independent consultative Advisory Panel, comprising representatives from the British Veterinary Association and Veterinary Defence Society as well as a consumer representative. The Panel will assess and advise on the progress of the trial mid-way through and on the results of the trial once it has concluded.
The results of the trial will be presented at the June 2015 meeting of RCVS Council where steps will be considered for the development of a permanent scheme.
For more details, please visit the Ombudsman Services website.
* Only concerns raised about veterinary surgeons are being addressed in the initial trial