The disciplinary committee (DC) of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has dismissed a case against a Southampton veterinary surgeon after finding him not guilty of serious professional misconduct, saying that he acted in the best interests of a dog under his care at all times.

At the onset of the five-day hearing, the charges against Edward Gillams, while in practice at Vets Now in Southampton in 2011, were that he:

  • discharged a dog that he knew or ought to have known was in no fit state to be discharged, and,
  • failed to provide adequate advice and information to the dog’s owners, particularly with regard to an alternative plan to discharge and treatment options

    The dog, an Italian spinone called Zola, had first been taken to the Vets4Pets veterinary clinic in Southampton in November 2011, where gastric torsion was diagnosed. During a subsequent gastrotomy, 3kg of sausages and plastic wrappings were removed. Zola was then discharged three days later, with a guarded prognosis from the operating veterinary surgeon. Later that evening, Zola’s condition deteriorated, leading the owners to be referred to their out-of-hours provider, Vets Now, where Mr Gillams was on duty. On admitting Zola, the only information available to Mr Gillams was what the dog’s owners were able to tell him.
    The DC said it heard differing witness accounts from the dog’s owners and from Mr Gillams regarding what tests and examinations were to be performed, and what advice and options were suggested. Ultimately, Zola was hospitalised overnight (despite some reluctance for this from one of his owners), given pain relief and antibiotics and placed on a drip; he was then to be collected by his owners first thing for transfer back to Vets4Pets. The next morning, Zola was described as “sternally recumbent but responsive”, holding his head up but not moving and not making any attempt to get up. Mr Gillams carried Zola to his owner’s car for transport back to the Vets4Pets practice. He considered that he had discharged his duty to provide advice, as this was given the night before and in the circumstances prevailing in the morning there was no obligation to repeat this. Zola died on the journey between the two practices.
    Before reaching a decision, the committee said it considered, in detail, the expert evidence of witnesses for both the college and Mr Gillams, which provided some conflicting views on Mr Gillams’ actions. It also referred to the RCVS guidance available to Mr Gillams at the time.
    The committee noted that both experts agreed that Mr Gillams could not have known Zola was about to die when he discharged him and that it was a difficult decision for Mr Gillams to make, but expressed differing views about the fitness of the dog to be discharged and whether it was in its best interests to be discharged. The committee said it rejected the contention that Mr Gillams ought to have known that Zola was not fit to be discharged, and instead considered appropriate his decision to discharge him into the care of his original veterinary surgeon. It felt that continuity of care would actually be better maintained in this manner, rather than a third veterinary surgeon taking over the case.
    Regarding provision of adequate advice, the DC accepted Mr Gillams’ evidence that he was frustrated that the owners refused him permission to undertake the diagnostic work necessary to treat Zola effectively, and that he had no other clinical information to work with.
    Chairing and speaking on behalf of the DC, vice-chairman Judith Webb said: “The committee expresses its sincere condolences to [the owners] for the loss of their much loved family pet Zola and recognises that this loss caused the family great distress.
    “The DC accepts that [Mr Gillams] discharged his obligations to Zola and to [his owners] in a manner wholly consistent with the standards of a competent veterinary surgeon in difficult circumstances. He leaves with no stain on his character or professional ability.”
    The full detail of the Committee’s decision is available on the RCVS website.

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