A veterinary surgeon has received a severe reprimand and warning as to future conduct after he was found guilty of serious professional misconduct.

The disciplinary committee of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) heard Frank Ainsworth, from Lowestoft in Suffolk, had failed to provide adequate care for a dog while working as a locum vet at Pinebank Veterinary Surgery in Kent.

However, the committee accepted it was a one-off occurrence after hearing Mr Ainsworth had an unblemished career over the past 38 years.

The incident happened on July 18, 2013 – Mr Ainsworth’s first day at Pinebank – after the dog, called Ash, was presented at the practice. The animal had collapsed with symptoms including diarrhoea, vomiting, lethargy and a high temperature.

Mr Ainsworth diagnosed heatstroke, but did not admit the dog for urgent treatment. He also failed to transfer Ash to another practice, failed to suggest euthanasia and did not offer the owner adequate treatment advice.

At hearings last week at the RCVS offices in London, the committee was told Ash’s owner took the dog to Pinebank between 7am and 8am, before the practice opened. On being told Ash had heatstroke and was unlikely to survive, he asked Mr Ainsworth whether anything could be done to save the dog, but was told the practice did not have the necessary treatment facilities.

The owner was advised to take Ash home and use cold running water, ice packs and fans to reduce his temperature. He did so and showered the dog in cold water.

His wife telephoned Pinebank to complain and asked if her husband could take Ash to Pinebank’s out-of-hours service provider. The practice receptionist said this was not an option and confirmed there was nothing it could do. Eventually, the owner took Ash to another practice, Sandhole Veterinary Centre in Snodland, where the dog was treated by the practice owner, Ian Johnson.

Ash’s owner was told the dog was unlikely to survive and that, if there was no improvement, he should consider euthanasia. About 45 minutes after the treatment was started, Ash suffered seizures and died shortly after.

Mr Ainsworth told the committee he had thought Pinebank did not have adequate facilities to treat a dog of Ash’s size for heatstroke and was unaware it had a hosepipe and watering can. In addition, he did not believe it would be practical and effective to reduce Ash’s temperature with wet towels and considered the main priority of reducing the temperature would be best done at home.

He said he had intended to make inquiries about referring Ash to another practice once the dog’s temperature had been reduced at home. He was about to search the internet for alternative practices when he overheard his colleague’s telephone conversation with the owner’s wife and assumed Ash had been taken to another vet.

Mr Ainsworth accepted he did not discuss euthanasia with the owner, but said he would have done at a later stage if Ash’s condition did not improve. He also accepted he made no further inquiries of the receptionist and did not telephone the owner to check if Ash had gone to another practice.

Before reaching its decision the committee considered, in detail, the testimony of a number of witnesses and experts for both Mr Ainsworth and the RCVS. Mr Ainsworth had produced character references from other vets attesting his integrity, skill and conscientiousness.

But the committee rejected his evidence that his treatment plan was to follow up his investigations into Ash’s case or contact the owner by telephone. It concluded that, if such a plan had been in place, he would have informed the owner of his intentions.

The committee also rejected his claim that he had overheard the conversation between the receptionist and Ash’s owner’s wife. It said it was not credible that, if he had heard the call, he would not have made further inquiries.

The committee found the charges proven. It concluded Mr Ainsworth should have made further inquiries about the treatment facilities available for cooling Ash and, if he felt they were inadequate, should have advised the owner to take the dog to another practice. It also felt it was inappropriate for Mr Ainsworth to have sent Ash home to the care of his owners while in a critical condition, without first seeking the option of referral.

The committee also felt Mr Ainsworth should have told the owner about the full range of treatment options available, including oxygen and fluids, as Ash was in a collapsed state before he left the practice, as well as discussing euthanasia.

However, the committee did accept, on the basis of Mr Ainsworth’s clinical records, he had given advice on how Ash could be cooled down at home, although it felt information could have been more detailed.

In deciding its sanction, the committee accepted Mr Ainsworth’s actions were not motivated by indifference to animal welfare, but that, on this occasion, there was a serious lapse of judgement.

Judith Webb, chairing the committee and speaking on its behalf, said: “The committee has concluded the sanction proportionate to Mr Ainsworth’s conduct is one of severe reprimand and warning as to his future conduct.

“The committee considers veterinary surgeons are required to be proactive in their duty of care and refer cases when they do not have the ability to deal with cases appropriately.”

The committee also recommended Mr Ainsworth should undertake, during the next 12 months, continuing professional development, with an emphasis on emergency and critical care and client communication.

The full findings and decision are available at www.rcvs.org.uk/disciplinary

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