A trial scheme to investigate disputes between veterinary professionals and their clients is nearing completion, with more than two-thirds of its target number of cases either resolved or in process.
The year-long alternative dispute resolution (ADR) trial launched by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) at the end of last year aims to gather the evidence needed to develop a permanent scheme for dealing with complaints made against a veterinary surgeon that do not meet the RCVS threshold of serious professional misconduct.
The trial, which is administered by the independent, not-for-profit Ombudsman Services, aimed to make determinations on about 100 cases to gather information about types of concern, time taken to resolve disputes, recommendations and how likely each party is to accept recommendations.
As of this week, 72 cases have been referred to the trial scheme, with final decisions made in relation to 54 of these cases.
RCVS chief executive Nick Stace was responsible for pushing forward the trial, believing “what is good for the consumer is good for the profession”.
Mr Stace said: “The majority of cases are either being determined in veterinary surgeons’ favour or finding that they need take no further action to resolve the dispute.
“Where recommendations have been made in favour of clients, the suggested remedies have generally been for a small goodwill payment to be made.”
He said, however, there had been some “frustrations” with the trial.
“The fact participation is entirely voluntary has meant, in many cases, members of the profession have chosen not to take part,” he said.
“With this in mind, it is very important to stress the benefits of the trial to the profession – chiefly that many of the vets who chose to take part have had their actions exonerated by Ombudsman Services in a way that a concern being closed by our professional conduct department does not.
“For clients, where a vet does have a case to answer, it gives them the chance to seek recompense without having to resort to legal action.
“Regardless of which way the decision goes in any of these cases, participating in the trial can bring these often long-standing and burdensome disputes to a close.”
The ADR trial is limited to concerns against veterinary surgeons relating to the treatment of small animals and horses and other equines.
Decisions are reached by a process of conciliation rather than arbitration and recommendations will be made, which either party is entitled to accept, or not. Recommendations could include, for example, financial accommodation up to £3,000 for small animal cases (£10,000 for equine cases), the issuing of an apology or another practical action to remedy the situation.
The scheme brings the RCVS in line with a European Union directive on alternative dispute resolution, which, while not legally binding on the Royal College, specifies regulators should have consumer redress systems in place.
The trial runs until the end of October 2015 and a full report and recommendations will be presented to RCVS council at its meeting on Thursday, November 5. Full details of the trial and its parameters can be found at www.rcvs.org.uk/adr