Just what do people think – if anything – about the Royal College? - Veterinary Practice
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Just what do people think – if anything – about the Royal College?

Gareth Cross tries to find out what a number of ‘reasonably well-informed’ clients and colleagues think of the RCVS, what it is and what it does – and receives a wide variety of responses

THE general public of the UK have
the immense good fortune to have
the standards of vets and veterinary
practices set and monitored by the
RCVS. It also runs the “practice
standards scheme” which we
all have either joined or at least

We have a
smart plaque
outside the
practice to tell
the public that
we have been
accredited by the RCVS
and the logo appears on our website.
The RCVS is always in the veterinary
news and recently has gone up in
practitioners’ estimation by listening
to the out-of-hours consultation and
acting on its members’ concerns.

Whether you agree with the changes
or not, I think we have all been
impressed and reassured that the RCVS
can listen to us and adapt. A new dawn

I thought it would be interesting to
see what an otherwise reasonably well-
informed group of pet owners actually
knew about the RCVS and so sent out
the following e-mail and am publishing
the responses in this column:

“Hi. As some of you will know I
write a monthly column for Veterinary
magazine… The Royal College
of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has
been in the veterinary news a lot
recently and has had a major leadership
change. One thing they are keen to do
is to increase public awareness of what
they are and what they do.

“I doubt that many people are fully
aware of their roles so I thought it
would make an interesting column for
me to canvas awareness amongst a
group of selected people who all have
either: had lots of dealings with vets or
are members of a profession.

“Where better to find such a list of
intelligent, informed people than my e-mail contact list, I hope you don’t

“So if you can reply with a few
words about who and what you think
the RCVS are and what they do that
would be great. Please don’t spend
much time on it, or look up the correct answer as the whole point is to find
out what the general awareness and
understanding of the RCVS is amongst
people who are generally well-informed
and especially other professions, rather
than a straw poll from the public at

  • Bill – NHS registered counselling
    psychologist (also dog owner,
    accidental dog breeder and client): Hi
    Gareth. I have never heard of RCVS
    and haven’t caught them in the news.
    I am not aware of
    issues related to
    this organisation.
    So, I am generally
    ignorant on all of
  • Ed – accountant
    (and dog, cat and
    tortoise owner and client): “Firstly,
    whenever I hear ‘RCVS’ it reminds me
    of reading one of the James Herriott
    books as a child, and when James is
    asked to give a speech to (I think) some
    school children, he starts by saying,
    ‘What does MRCVS mean to you?’
    Unfortunately, I cannot recall what he
    then goes on to say!

    “On a more serious note, my
    understanding is that the RCVS would
    be the veterinary equivalent of the
    ICAEW, i.e. the premier professional
    body for veterinary surgeons in the UK and established by Royal charter.
    As such, I would imagine its functions
    include: regulation and ensuring
    compliance with quality standards,
    promotion of the profession to the
    wider public and representation at government and similar level
    support for members in terms of
    training, CPD, ethical issues. etc. I
    would assume they are run by an
    elected leadership taken from the

  • Steve – government vet working
    abroad: “I do, very occasionally, delve
    into the RCVS website to see what the
    latest news is. I have to say it seems
    quite remote from my day to day
    existence and not an organisation with
    which I have much in common.

    “What is its function? To regulate
    the veterinary profession and to
    ensure that professional standards
    are maintained and adhered to. Who
    are they? A mixture of full time
    administrative staff and elected council
    members who are voted for by the
    profession. I think council members are voted for on an
    annual basis – but
    maybe it is less
    frequent than that.

    “I became
    disillusioned with
    the Royal College
    when it said that it
    could do nothing at all about the setting up of new
    veterinary schools. I would have
    thought that one of its main functions
    should be to look after its members’
    interests and I can’t see how producing
    more vets than the country needs is in
    the interests of the profession.

    “One of the reasons that we have
    so many Spanish and Portuguese vets
    working in the UK is that historically
    there has never been a cap on
    veterinary student numbers in either of
    those European countries (and some
    other EU countries as well) leading
    to an overproduction of vets in those
    countries. Why would the UK want to
    follow that example?”

  • Mark – recently
    retired headteacher
    (tortoise owner and
    client): “I naturally
    assumed that vets
    had some sort of
    governing body,
    perhaps this is the
    RCVS, but I have
    never actually heard
    of it specifically. As
    for their roles and functions I would guess they manage
    veterinary licences, fund research and
    set standards for vets in practice.”
  • Clive – GP vet in UK: “It’s
    perceived as a kind of evil all-seeing
    eye, judge, jury and prosecutor all
    rolled into one. And now it looks like
    we are going to have arbitration added
    on if ADR bears fruit.

    “The problem is that it misses tons
    of things it really should be dealing
    with while torturing the rabbits it does
    manage to get in the headlights. The
    PSS is a pointless box-ticking exercise.

    “Like most public bodies it is
    susceptible to lobbying from the most
    powerful interests with the biggest
    voices… This raises another point: you
    have to tell them what appears to be
    common sense because those in charge
    are very very detached from the great
    Ann – GP vet: “I have always
    regarded the role of the RCVS to be
    one of maintaining standards within
    the profession and as being the voice
    of the profession when comment is required on topics that appear in the news. In other words, a public relations role.”

  • Hugh–IT consultant (dog and cat owner and client): “If you asked
    ‘What is the RCVS?’ I’d assume you
    were referring to the Richard Curtis
    Vivisection Society (i.e. I’m not familiar
    with the acronym).

    “Since you clarified it as the Royal
    College of Veterinary Surgeons … I
    imagine they are like the BMA for
    vets, i.e. a union representing vets,
    maybe with a role in setting standards,
    best practice, etc. Maybe someone to
    complain to (seek mediation) if you
    kill my cat? How’s that?”

  • David – vet and MD of wholesale
    buying group: “The RCVS has two
    roles: (1) to maintain a register of
    veterinary surgeons, (2) to enforce
    disciplinary measures on veterinary
    surgeons to protect animals and the public. Is that adequately to the
  • Alan – teacher, jazz clarinetist
    (owner of various ill dogs and, until recently, prolific
    siamese cat breeder):
    “I thought the RCVS
    was like the General
    Practitioners Council, a
    quality control of vets
    and practices.”

Correct answer

I will give the last word
to Richard Stephenson,
well-known equine vet and member of the RCVS council. He
gets an A+ for his answer, which I am
guessing is the correct one!

He said: “Perhaps the best definition
of what the RCVS is was given at the
last meeting of Council. ‘The RCVS
is a Royal College that regulates.’ The
College should be about setting the
profession’s standards both in primary
undergraduate education and in the
conduct of individual members. In
recent years there has been a general
shift in regulation not just in the
veterinary profession but across the
spectrum. This means that areas such
as CPD, postgraduate training and
practice standards are legitimate areas
for the College to be involved in. The
RCVS does not just set standards: it
must maintain and seek to improve

“The roles are: setting the standard
of day one competencies for
undergraduates and ensuring that
the registrable degrees deliver those
competencies; maintaining the integrity
of the Register; setting a Code of
Conduct and providing guidance as to how members can stay within it;
investigating breaches of the Code
and where necessary taking corrective
disciplinary action through a fully
independent disciplinary tribunal
system; monitoring developments in the profession; supporting and
monitoring postgraduate training
and CPD; responding to government
requests for consultation on issues
involving the regulation of veterinary

“Recently we have added, in
response to an EU directive, facilitating
dispute resolution between members
of the public and members of the

“In addition the RCVS has a
charitable role which embraces its
collegiate nature and is expressed via
RCVS Knowledge.

“The RCVS does NOT represent the
profession (that is the role of the BVA)
– the profession is however strongly
represented on the Council of the
RCVS via both appointed veterinary
surgeons and the 24 elected members.
In decision making the RCVS has to
actively consider the ‘public interest’
– which of course long term is always
in the best interest of any profession.
Thus individual decisions might not
always be to the liking of the wider

Range of ideas

This very small sample size shows a
range of ideas, some understanding
and also misconceptions amongst the
public, people I chose deliberately who
work under the aegis of their own
equivalent governing body.

I expected that some notion of
it being a union would creep in,
and interesting to see someone
commenting on funding: there is a notion in the public that there is
somewhere a source of government
money for veterinary services, the
vague notion of the “NHS for pets”
we encounter in various guises: for example, “Is it free if I’m on

I was also glad to have someone
else’s body, the ICAEW (for chartered
accountants), quoted at me. I guess
my notion of them is similar to an
accountant’s notion of the RCVS.

In Richard’s response there is a
slight conflict where he says their role
is not to represent the profession,
but then when responding to government requests for consultation
they are indeed representing us to the

A monopoly?

The section on CPD is also interesting
in Richard’s response. My opinion is
that the RCVS has created a monopoly
for itself in being both a provider and
a standards setter.

This conflict has been recently
seen in the decision to remove post-
nominals from the register (since
reversed), the fact it can decide which
post-nominals go in and which don’t (I
recently heard a vet say he wasn’t going to do a particular postgraduate course
because “The RCVS doesn’t recognise
it”, which would be fine if the RCVS
didn’t run the competitor course), and most noticeably in the setting up
of the “Advanced Practitioner” (AP)
status which insists on inclusion of an
A module or similar in a vet’s CPD to

AP status also does not take into
account vets who were let down in
their subject by the lack of provision
in the new system for many years, or permanently, when the certificate
system changed. But that’s another

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