Dear Dogs Today
My dog is very ill. He went into the vet's about a month ago for routine treatment and unfortunately the medication he was given has made him worse and he is now undergoing specialist treatment with a different vet. He was discharged to me following treatment and a stay in the vet's with the vet telling me he was healthy - as I collected him I discovered he was not and rushed him to a separate specialist, who treated him for something very nasty and undetected by the vet just hours before.
What has upset and astonished me the most is what was written in my dog's notes in 2008. The same vet practice had written in 2008 that my dog had had a severe reaction to this medication and should not be given it again, nor any other similar medication which may produce similar side-effects. I was unaware of this until a couple of weeks ago, when I asked to see all of his notes. Due to the effects of this medication on my dog leading to a serious problem, which also went unnoticed, he could die.
Please could you tell me where I stand on reporting this vet? Who do I report the vet to? Would I have a civil case or is it a matter for a veterinary authority? Due to all of the treatment my dog has now undergone as a result of this bad practice, I have racked up an incredibly expensive bill, into the thousands of pounds, and am facing the very real possibility of losing my dog. I don't want to lose my boy, the money is, of course, secondary, but I don't think I should fit the bill for the vet's mistake. I would like to make sure this is resolved and it doesn't happen again to anyone else.
This is very upsetting and stressful. I would be ever so grateful for some advice and information on where I stand legally.
Name supplied, by phone
Claire Millington, spokesperson for the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, replied...
I’m sorry to hear about this sad situation and do hope that your dog makes a full recovery. As you rightly suggest, veterinary surgeons are subject to regulation, and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) is the authority responsible for regulating their professional conduct. I can’t comment specifically on your case as the RCVS considers all complaints it receives through a formal complaints procedure. However, I thought it might be helpful to at least to say how complaints can be made, and a bit about what the RCVS can and can’t do.
The College has a duty to consider all complaints that it receives, however, it can only act on those which may mean someone is not fit to work as a vet. Alternatively, if you consider the veterinary surgeon or practice has been negligent, and in effect should pay compensation, then you can consider pursuing this through the civil courts with the advice of a solicitor and of any relevant veterinary expert – complaints about negligence are not generally matters the College can act upon. Mostly, when something goes wrong at a practice it’s best to try to resolve things with the practice first though. You can usually ask to speak to the practice principal or manager if you don’t feel comfortable discussing matters directly with the vets involved.
Complaints can be made to the RCVS by using the complaints form available from our website or from our Professional Conduct department (see below). All complaint forms that the RCVS receives are assessed to see if the issues fall within its remit. Then, if they do, the RCVS investigates further which involves getting evidence from all those involved, and can mean visiting the person making a complaint and also the veterinary practice. The RCVS also considers if a case could be made against the veterinary surgeon at a Disciplinary Committee hearing.
Disciplinary hearings are held in public, reported to the press and, if the Disciplinary Committee decides a vet is not fit to practise, he or she may be suspended or removed from the Register. These are the only sanctions the RCVS has and must be used to protect animals and the public, rather than to punish vets. Complaints are usually closed prior to these hearings and the RCVS does not make these complaints public, although it does keep information which it can use if it receives further complaints about a vet. The RCVS can also now consider complaints made against registered veterinary nurses (RVNs), under a similar system.
There is no checklist to use to determine that someone is fit to work as a vet – it’s about more than just ticking the boxes. Instead, the RCVS Guide to Professional Conduct sets out the RCVS’s expectations of veterinary surgeons and you can read this on the RCVS website. This approach means that all relevant circumstances can be properly considered in each individual complaint. You can also read on our website about the cases that the Disciplinary Committee has heard over the past three years, and the decisions the Committee has taken.
Need more information?
About making a complaint: www.rcvs.org.uk/complaints
What makes a vet fit to practise: http://www.rcvs.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/
Recent Disciplinary hearings: http://www.rcvs.org.uk/complaints/disciplinary-hearings/
Or contact the RCVS Professional Conduct Department (firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7202 0789)