Pigeon Post: Ian Neville reports from the UK

The British veterinary profession’s relationship with its regulatory body, The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), was for many years one of mute acceptance; presumably because any institution prefixed ‘Royal’ was dutifully honoured and most definatly obeyed. In recent years as the rate of change and complexity in the veterinary world has accelerated, the profession has begun to react more vociferously to college decisions and to doubt the wisdom of some of the college’s pronouncements. This year several open rebellions have surfaced. Issues that have recently brought sections of the profession into conflict with the college include: the formation of an employed vets union, out of hours service provision, homeopathy and disciplinary powers.

The contentious decision to strike Munhuwepasi Chikosi off the UK veterinary register (detailed in Pigeon Post, The Veterinarian March 2014) is still smouldering away. Though Mr Chikosi is no longer working in the UK a campaign has begun to get him reinstated in defiance of the college judgement. The campaign is being spearheaded by forensic veterinary scientist and expert witness David Bailey who aims to raise £25,000 (A$45,643) to bring Mr Chikosi back to the UK and fight the college decision in the courts.

The general unease over mandatory out-of-hours service provision (also outlined in Pigeon Post March 2014), which grew out of the Chikosi case, found a focus in vet Jo Dyer’s online petition which accrued 2,400 signatures (including 1,800 vets) earlier this year. When the RCVS made some conciliatory but vague responses Dyer forthrightly suggested they should “… listen carefully to direct feedback” from the profession and “not put up smokescreens based on semantics.”

A third campaign has arisen out of an RCVS decision taken (on advice) to remove all post-nominal qualifications, excepting primary veterinary degree and MRVCS, from the veterinary register and replace them with two broad levels of expertise: the intermediate ‘advanced practitioner’ and the higher ‘recognised specialist’. The idea was to help the public more easily differentiate between levels of expertise. However, holders of UK certificates would have to undertake an extra 100 hours of CPD or an extra qualification to be registered as ‘advanced practitioners’ on top of which the college proposes to charge every applicant a £50 (A$ 91) fee for appearing as advanced or specialist in the register and then an annual renewal fee of a further £110 (A$ 200) to remain there! Compulsory annual registration to practise currently costs £299 (A$546) so the change represents over a third increase in registration fees for vets with post graduate qualifications. To some this evidently seemed more like revenue generation than increased transparency as it sparked another online petition in protest (more than 1,500 signatories). On this matter it seems the RCVS has heard the message and the proposal is now is now up for review in June.

Despite these issues and the ire they aroused, turnout for the RCVS Council Elections this spring was only 4,137 representing just 16.1 per cent of vets eligible to vote. That’s down on last year and below the ten year average turnout too! Maybe UK vets were too busy signing protest petitions to vote?

Vet students have been having their say too, though not in opposition to the RCVS, but as respondents in the British Veterinary Association/Association of Veterinary Students survey. The survey, which has been running since 1996, asks vet students their opinion on their course and their broader student life. About 46 per cent of the student population responded to the survey during the final term of the 2012. The most striking finding was that relative newcomer, The University of Nottingham School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, came out top in every category questioned ahead of all the six long established schools.

The survey also recorded that 76.9 per cent of veterinary undergraduates were female and 18.5 per cent of undergraduates were from overseas. Final year students were found to have wildly underestimated their final level of student debt by a huge 37 per cent. In 2008 the average anticipated student debt was £25,161 (A$ 45,937), but four years later the same students reported it had risen to £34,508 (A$ 63,003).

IAN NEVILLE