24/7 Emergency Care – A New Emphasis

Presenters – Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Registrar Gordon Hockey and former Council Member and Standards Committee Chair Clare Tapsfield

At some point in our career we are likely to have encountered the client on the end of the phone who is demanding a house visit in the middle of the night, not for the benefit of their pet but for their own convenience. Yet we still feel obliged to say ‘yes’ for fear of disciplinary action by the RCVS. This has been an ongoing issue encountered by vets for several years and concern has been frequently cited over the RCVS guidance appearing not to empower the vet to say ‘no’.

Fortunately this has all changed and ‘The Webinar Vet’  provided a forum for the RCVS to lead a free veterinary webinar discussing the welcome recent changes made to the RCVS guidance notes covering vets obligations in providing 24/7 emergency care.

After  consultation with a large number of vets it was clear the profession agreed it was of continued importance to maintain our obligation in providing 24/7 emergency first aid and pain relief. However after extensive discussion the RCVS is now highlighting that the responsibility for a pet’s welfare ultimately lies with the owner and the vets duty is to  help owners meet this responsibility. For this reason vets are no longer obliged to attend patients away from practice unless in their personal judgement it is appropriate to do so. Vets are entitled to decline a visit if considered not necessary or if there are overriding safety concerns. The RCVS were keen to stress priority must always be given to the safety of the vet even over the welfare of the animal. Disciplinary action towards the vet would only be considered where there is a wilful disregard for animal welfare.

Outsourcing of out of hours work has also been a considerable bugbear amongst the profession  with practices performing their own out of hours work being frustrated by non-registered clients wanting to use their services as more convenient than their outsourced clinic. The RCVS has now advised that communication to clients about a practice’s out of hours arrangements is key. Practices need to actively update clients about how they provide OOH services, where owners will have to go and the costs involved with information being provided in the form of posters and leaflets.

Practices are also responsible for ensuring the provision of care provided by OOH centres is of a good enough standard and within a reasonable distance for their clients. The RVCS also advised that practices contacted by non-registered clients out of hours are well within their rights to charge a greater fee compared to that they would charge for their registered clients.

The provision of 24/7 emergency care does not just cover whether we should attend house visits and outsourcing of work, it also covers several other areas such as the transfer of animals from one clinic to another, how to deal with emergencies where owners have limited finances and the responsibility of senior managers often coordinating the staffing and protocols within practice. All these topics and more were covered within this veterinary webinar accessible on ‘The Webinar Vet’ and RCVS website and in my opinion offered an excellent way of answering any questions raised by the new set of guidance notes covering emergency 24/7 care.

The Stethoscope (MRCVS)



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