A six-month trial of an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme will be launched by Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) on November 3.

RCVS chief executive Nick Stace hopes vets will support the ADR trial.

The college says the trial is the first step towards developing a new consumer redress system for users of veterinary services.

RCVS chief executive Nick Stace said he hoped vets would support the scheme as “ultimately, what is good for the consumer can be good for the profession.”

Although the RCVS is obliged to investigate all concerns raised with it, it is limited to dealing with only the most serious of concerns raised against a veterinary surgeon’s or registered veterinary nurse’s fitness to practise.

This means many of the 800 or so issues received every year by the college’s professional conduct department are closed, with no further action taken.

Mr Stace said it was clear from RCVS consultations last year for the first rate regulator initiative that many animal owners who had made complaints were dissatisfied and frustrated that the college was unable to take their “often very legitimate” concerns any further. 

“It is for this reason we decided to launch a trial to determine how we could develop an alternative scheme that, through conciliation, would try to resolve these disputes in a way that would be acceptable to both parties,” Mr Stace said.

“Although this trial is small-scale we hope it will provide the framework for a permanent ADR scheme, which I believe would both increase consumer confidence in the profession and help maintain and preserve its reputation.

“We hope the profession will actively support the trial, and any future scheme, as a way of resolving those intractable disputes we know can hang over veterinary surgeons and practices and they recognise that, ultimately, what is good for the consumer can be good for the profession.”

The trial will be administered by Ombudsman Services, an independent and not-for-profit complaint resolution service, and limited to no more than 150 concerns raised about veterinary surgeons regarding treatment of a small animal.

The trial is free to the users and voluntary. Consent will be sought from both parties before the concern is referred to Ombudsman Services. The costs of the trial will not exceed £120,000.

Recommendations will be determined through conciliation between both parties and Ombudsman Services will be able only to suggest, rather than impose, a solution that each party is entitled to accept, or not.

Solutions could include, for example, financial accommodation up to the small claims court limit of £10,000, issuing of an apology, or other practical action to remedy the situation.

Ombudsman Services will be assisted in its investigations by veterinary advisors who will provide guidance on clinical and other veterinary matters.

The results of the trial, which will end in May, will be presented at RCVS council.

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