The RCVS is to implement major reforms of the disciplinary process after Council gave the go ahead yesterday. 

The College says the reforms will make for a clearer and more streamlined process, and offer an alternative, more compassionate way of resolving cases that might otherwise go to a full Disciplinary Committee hearing.

The College will now establish ‘Stage 1 Preliminary Investigation Committees (PICs)’ to replace the current Case Examiner Group stage of the concerns investigation process.

Eleanor Ferguson, RCVS Registrar, said: “Setting up Stage 1 PICs will streamline and clarify the early stages of the concerns investigation process and could also potentially, once sufficiently bedded in, reduce the amount of time taken for a number of cases.

“Currently, Stage 1 of a concerns investigation is carried out by a Case Examiner Group who determine if there is an ‘arguable case’ for serious professional misconduct before referring it on to the Preliminary Investigation Committee.

"However, under these reforms, the Stage 1 PICs will close cases where there is no realistic prospect of finding a case of serious professional misconduct.

"Where cases require formal statements and/or expert opinion they will be referred on to Stage 2 PIC to determine if, based on the additional evidence gathered, a case is serious enough to warrant referral to either the Charter Case Committee [see below], or a full, public Disciplinary Committee hearing.

“In essence this change means that there will be one consistent threshold of seriousness in all our investigations, meaning it is likely that fewer cases will be unnecessarily referred to Stage 2 of the process.”

The second reform involves the implementation of the new ‘Charter Case Protocol’ to provide an alternative way to resolve suitable cases meeting certain criteria which, though they meet the threshold to go to the Disciplinary Committee, it is considered that the public interest can still be served without a full hearing.

The ‘Charter Case Committee’ to which these cases will be referred will be able to issue written warning notices.

Eleanor added: “The establishment of the Charter Case Protocol and Committee is important for the RCVS in being able to get the balance right between upholding professional conduct standards and protecting animal health and welfare and public confidence in the professions, while also being a compassionate regulator.

“The type of cases we envisage being dealt with by the Committee are those where the conduct of the veterinary surgeon or veterinary nurse has fallen far short of what is expected of them under the Code, but where there is no ongoing risk to animal welfare or public confidence, and where the level of insight and contrition about their conduct is such that it can be resolved without the need for an onerous, stressful and expensive Disciplinary Committee hearing.

"We estimate that the Charter Case Committee will deal with around 20 such cases per year.

“Of course, the most serious cases of professional misconduct, for example around dishonesty and criminality, will continue to be referred to Disciplinary Committee hearings.

“It is worth noting that Charter Case Protocol and Committee are working titles, describing the fact that we are implementing this process under the remit of our Royal Charter.

"RCVS Council has agreed that the name should be changed in due course to something that better reflects its function and remit."

Unlike the Disciplinary Committee, the Charter Case Committee will not issue to the press the full details of cases as a news article.

Instead, it will publish a warning notice on the RCVS website summarising the area of concern, the relevant sections of the Code that were breached and supporting guidance it referred to, and the reasons for issuing the warning.

These warning notices will remain on the RCVS website for a maximum of two years and will not change the registration status of the individual.

The College says that the reforms are likely to take some months to implement and it will be looking to recruit additional Preliminary Investigation Committee members in due course.

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