Legalities of Treating Wildlife Casualties in Practice

Presenter: Michael Stanford BVSc MRCVS, current president of the British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS)

Imagine a scenario, a good client (in fact you could almost call her a friend) recently set up a hedgehog rescue centre and is keen to have a stock of veterinary medicines so she can provide preventative medicine as well as treat any sick hedgehogs. She will bring occasional hedgehogs in for clinical assessment and phone for advice when necessary. What would you do? Is it okay to hand over a bottle of antibiotics, or even a bottle of pentobarbitone to euthanase a hedgehog on welfare grounds?

There has to be an obvious answer for the last question, we should never be handing over class A drugs to a lay person, or anyone else for that matter. But how about some antibiotics or prescription only flea and worm treatment? This is where decisions are not as clear cut and Michael Stanford BVSc MRCVS, current president of the British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS) offered essential advice in last week’s webinar on the legalities of treating wildlife in practice.

Also working in professional indemnity insurance, Michael has seen claims against vets rise year on year and this includes for exotics and wildlife. Michael explained that a lot of complaints centred around wildlife centres usually come from aggrieved volunteers who often want to cause trouble for both vet and centre! So even being good friends with the client running the aforementioned hedgehog centre offers no protection as most complaints will be coming from volunteers. As an aside Michael stated there has been a spike in hedgehog claims recently, usually relating to vets unwilling to attend suffering hedgehogs, neglect on admittance (the hedgehog gets popped into a cage and gets forgotten about) or the inappropriate prescription of medicines breaching veterinary medicine regulations (VMRs).

Michael explained that following the VMRs is necessary to legally supply prescription only medicines to a wildlife centre and, just as with any other animal, this means only vets can prescribe POM-Vs and only to animals which have been clinically assessed and are under their care. This is not strictly defined by the VMRs but Michael directed us to guidance from the RCVS code of conduct, the BVA and BSAVA medicine guidelines , VMD advice notes, the VDS and BVZS. Following the cascade is also crucial especially in wildlife as there will be very few licensed drugs and consent should always be signed for when using unlicensed products being made simpler by supplying a single lifetime consent form.

Michael advised on many other ‘ grey areas’ including euthanasing wildlife, asking the question as to whether it can in fact be performed by a lay person? Euthanasia is not in law the act of a veterinary surgeon as long as it is carried out humanely, but is performing an intravenous injection with a class A drug a vet only act? This was discussed more in depth within the webinar. Michael also asked the question: ‘is wildlife owned?’ The answer to this is ‘yes’ – essentially once a member of the public picks up, let’s say, an injured pigeon, that member of the public takes on ownership of that animal. This, explained Michael, is why it is so important to sign over ownership of this animal to the practice when brought in to be treated. This should prevent any confusion between the practice and the member of the public when it comes to decision making for relieving suffering in that animal which, in many cases, will mean euthanasia.

This blog has probably asked more questions about the legalities of treating wildlife than it has actually answered, but I can reassure you by watching last week’s veterinary webinar organised by ‘The Webinar Vet’  these questions will be answered and we can sleep a little easier at night knowing we are not opening ourselves up to litigation, scrutiny by the RCVS or even facing criminal charges by the police. This was the position one vet found themselves in after supplying a syringe of pentobarbitone to a client to euthanase a wild deer. The owner was stopped by the police on the way home and I will let you watch the webinar to find out the rest of the story, but as you can imagine the consequences were severe.

The Stethoscope (MRCVS)

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