Future RCVS governance reform - Veterinary Practice
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Future RCVS governance reform

The RCVS council held a meeting to discuss and vote on principles and models for future governance. The changes would be part of an overall legislative reform to modernize the regulatory functions of the college and replace the old veterinary surgeons act 1966.

At its January 2024 meeting, members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) council agreed to consult on recommendations for the future reform of the college’s governance structure as part of its overall legislative reform process.  

At the meeting, which took place on Thursday 18 January 2024, members of the RCVS council were asked to discuss and then vote on key principles and potential models for the future RCVS governance composition, which would then go to consultation with the public and professionals. These changes would be integrated into the overall recommendations for legislative reform, through which the college is seeking new, modern legislation to underpin its regulatory functions and replace the outdated veterinary surgeons act of 1966.  

The discussion at the council started with a written representation of the governance reform proposals from professor Stuart Reid on behalf of the veterinary schools’ council and a presentation from Malcolm Morley, senior vice-president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), that set out the organisation’s preliminary views on the proposals. Both organisations broadly supported the proposals before the council, including moving towards an appointed governance model and parity between veterinary professionals and lay members.  

RCVS council members then proceeded to discuss the proposals and voted as follows:  

  • Council members voted by a majority for the composition of the council to be a matter of more flexible secondary legislation rather than it being fixed via primary legislation 
  • The council voted by majority to move towards an independent appointment system for council membership to replace the current election system 
  • The council agreed to an increase in the proportion of lay members, but a decision on whether the council should adopt exact parity of veterinary professionals and lay members would be informed through consultation 
  • The council voted by majority to reform its composition to remove the veterinary schools council (VSC) appointees. Currently, the VSC has three appointed council members 
  • The council agreed to consult with the profession and public on two options for the future composition of a 24-person RCVS council, which would ensure this was as balanced as possible. The first option is a council with a slim majority of members drawn from the veterinary professions (of whom a majority would be veterinary surgeons) compared to lay members. The second option is a council with exact parity between veterinary professionals (of whom a majority would be veterinary surgeons) and lay members 
  • The council was tied on whether to separate the position of RCVS president and the chair of the RCVS council, meaning that this will come back for decision later following the consultation 

All the recommendations agreed upon by the council will now be subject to consultation with the public and veterinary professionals.  

The proposals put forward for council members to discuss and vote on were in line with recommendations on regulatory best practices identified in a 2014 law commission report (regulation of health and social care professionals), which were subsequently adopted by the UK government.  

Speaking on why these proposals for governance reform had been put forward to the council, RCVS president Sue Paterson, who chaired the council meeting and introduced the paper, said: “The unique way that RCVS council is currently constituted with annual elections to the council is an old model of self-regulation which is no longer found in other professions including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, solicitors and social workers, among others. 

“As a responsible regulator, we have a duty to operate in a way that recognises modern principles of regulation and best meets our objectives to enhance society through improved animal health and welfare by setting, upholding and advancing the veterinary profession’s educational, ethical and clinical standards. The college’s recommendations would see us retain self-regulation in the sense of independence from the government and maintain registrants within our governance framework while better assuring the public that we are acting on their behalf. 

“It is our firm belief that, among other things, moving to an all-appointed council member system, whereby those who serve on the council are selected via an independent process based on their knowledge and experience to ensure input from all parts of the veterinary sector, will better serve our aims, as will have a better balance of professionals and lay members. Of course, veterinary expertise, knowledge and experience will also remain a vital part of any future arrangements throughout our committee structure so that the veterinary voice will be as important as ever in our policy and decision-making processes. 

“I would like to thank council members for having a courageous and forward-thinking discussion on what is not an easy topic. Recommendations will go through a formal consultation process later this year to get feedback from the professions and the public.” 

The full details of the recommendations can be found in the January 2024 RCVS council papers.  Further details about the consultation process will be published in due course.  

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