The Disciplinary Committee (DC) of the RCVS has suspended a veterinary surgeon for a period of six monthsfor issuing two false horse passports, having found him to have been “consciously dishonest”.
At a hearing which concluded on July 15, Andrew Dominic Illing, director of the Chapelfield Veterinary Partnership, Norwich, admitted charges of backdating the passports of two different horses on May 1, 2008, to indicate that they had been vaccinated on April 24, 2008, against equine influenza and equine influenza and tetanus, when he knew that the vaccinations had not been carried out on that date.
The committee heard that, whilst on a routine visit to a local livery yard on April 30, 2008, a junior veterinary surgeon at the practice, Charlotte Alice Mayers, had been pressured to backdate the equine passports of two horses, owned by Mrs Scriven and Mrs Kippen respectively, because their booster vaccinations had been carried out beyond the 12-month window prescribed by the Horse Racing Authority. Ms Mayers had declined to do so and had brought the passports back to the practice to seek the advice of its director, Mr Illing.
Ms Mayers explained to Mr Illing, both in a note and in discussion with him, that the boosters had been administered outwith the prescribed period and that she had told the owners that she was not willing to backdate the passports, one of which she had already signed. The disciplinary committee heard that Mr Illing told Ms Mayers “not to worry about it” and that he would deal with the situation. It did not surface until the livery yard manager later made a complaint, that Mr Illing had in fact signed the second passport and backdated both to April 24.
In mitigation, Mr Illing said that he had been under considerable stress at the time, as he had been dealing with a protracted and difficult disciplinary meeting concerning a senior veterinary colleague. As a consequence of this, the committee heard from Mr Illing’s practice partner that Mr Illing was required to take on more work than he was already performing, which was already 10-15 per cent more than the other three vets in the practice. In addition, Mr Illing had been in a degree of pain at the time, following a knee injury. The committee also heard evidence from a veterinary surgeon who testified to Mr Illing’s good character; and received many written testimonials.
It reaching its decision, the committee held the view that: “the public must be able to trust certificates which are signed by members of this profession. If the public cannot trust the authenticity of such certificates, the committee considers that public confidence in the profession would be undermined, and undermined in a very significant way.” It also cited the obligations of the RCVS Guide to Professional Conduct in terms of the integrity of veterinary certification, and the ’12 Principles of Certification’, as agreed by the RCVS, the BVA and DEFRA.
The committee considered many factors when making its final decision. It did not accept that stress overbore Mr Illing’s normal way of dealing with certification, particularly where he had had a period of overnight reflection before taking the action that he did. However, it felt that the most troubling feature in his decision to backdate the certificates was that, in advising Ms Mayers on a difficult ethical issue, Mr Illing had “set a disgraceful example and wholly failed to provide her with the support to which she was entitled”. Furthermore, in backdating a certificate that Ms Mayers had already signed, he was putting her integrity at risk.
Alison Bruce, chairing the committee, said: “It is only by upholding the importance of each and every certificate issued by a member of the veterinary profession that public confidence in such certificates can be maintained.”
She continued: “Without significant mitigating circumstances, false certification will result in removal from the Register. In Mr Illing’s case, having regard to all the evidence, both the oral and written testimonials, and taking into account all the aggravating and mitigating circumstances detailed above, the committee has decided to suspend Mr Illing’s name from the Register for a period of six months.”
Further information, including the original charges against Mr Illing, and the Committee’s findings and decision on sanction can be found at www.rcvs.org.uk/disciplinary.