Devon vet Jo Dyer has launched a petition for the RCVS to remove mandatory house visits from the Code of Professional Conduct, in response to the College's call for evidence on the provision of 24-hour emergency veterinary cover.

Clause 3.13 of the Code currently says: "Clients may request attendance on a sick or injured animal away from the practice premises and, in some circumstances, it may be desirable to do so. On rare occasions, it may be necessary on clinical or welfare grounds. The decision to attend away from the practice is for the veterinary surgeon, having carefully balanced the needs of the animal against the safety implications of making the visit; a veterinary surgeon is not expected to risk 'life or limb', or that of anyone else to provide the service."

In other words, whilst it is not mandatory to accede to every request for a home visit, the Code starts by saying: 'it may be desirable' and 'it may be necessary', thereby implying that the veterinary surgeon will need to explain themselves if they decide against.

Jo argues that this ambiguity, coupled with outcome of recent disciplinary cases and the risk, however small, of losing one's livelihood, means that there are many practitioners, particularly younger and less experienced graduates, who are now fearful of refusing home visits, rendering them to all intents and purposes mandatory. It's a situation compounded by the perception that if push comes to shove, a practitioner's actions will be judged by a Disciplinary Committee whose members may be out of touch with the sometimes harsher realities of life in practice.

Jo also points to the increased risk of assault that practitioners face when making home visits, rather than treating the patient from the relative security of the practice premises. She also makes the point that leaving a practice unattended (as can happen if the only vet on the premises has to go on a home visit), may compromise the welfare of any other animals that need emergency treatment in the meantime. 

The petition calls for the complete removal of clause 3.13 from the Code, and for clause 3.2 to be amended to read: 'The responsibility for the welfare of an animal rests primarily with the owner, keeper or carer of the animal. Veterinary surgeons are unable to make a definitive decision regarding diagnosis and treatment until they have undertaken a physical examination of an animal. This examination may take place at the surgery or other address entirely at the discretion of the veterinary surgeon on duty. It is expected that farm animals and equines will mainly be examined away from the surgery and pets at the surgery."

Jo said: "It is important to stress that I am not calling for the abolition of home visits, and nor do I think this would be the effect of my proposed change to the CoPC. The profession is almost entirely made up of people who care desperately about the quality of the service they offer, and who want to offer the best to their patients and their clients. Of course we'll continue to make home visits. But I do feel passionately that the decision in each case must rest unambiguously with the veterinary surgeon concerned and not be subject afterwards to the judgement of others."

To sign the petition, visit:

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