2017 June - Complaints Committee Report
The Board has reviewed and determined 29 complaints made against veterinarians since October 2016. Of these, 23 complaints were dismissed, 5 veterinarians were found guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct and cautioned and 1 veterinarian was found guilty of professional misconduct and reprimanded.
There are four possible outcomes for complaints investigated by the Board:
2. Dismiss with a recommendation
3. Unsatisfactory professional conduct or
4. Professional misconduct.
In making its findings the Board considers whether a breach of the Veterinary Practice Act 2003 or the Veterinary practitioners code of professional conduct (schedule 2 of the Veterinary Practice Regulation 2013) has occurred.
A finding may be made as a result of, but not limited to, unsatisfactory performance relating to case management, availability, maintenance of skills and knowledge of current standards, or provision of referral. An adverse finding may also be made on the basis of conduct with respect to the reputation of the veterinary profession, the keeping of and provision of medical records, the obtaining of informed consent for services, compliance with the regulations regarding the supply of restricted substances or the rules of animal sporting organisations or non compliance with any requirements of registration or any conditions placed on a practitioner’s registration.
These aspects of veterinary conduct, veterinary practice and compliance requirements are outlined in the Veterinary Practice Act 2003 and Veterinary Practitioners Code of Professional Conduct (Code) and are accessible by practitioners and members of the public from the Board’s website under Resources, Legislation, Veterinary Practice Legislation.
The Board appreciates that when a complaint is raised to the Board, the experience is invariably stressful for both the complainant and the veterinarian involved. The investigation process can be protracted, as the Board provides both the complainant and veterinarian with opportunities to submit information pertinent to the complaint. Information is shared with each party to assist the investigation process. Independent expert opinion is sought to assist the Board when interpretation of aspects of the complaint demand specific expertise.
The five findings of unsatisfactory professional conduct since October 2016 are summarised below:
- A veterinarian was cautioned and fined as a result of their handling of a case of possible anticoagulant rodenticide intoxication. The veterinarian had failed to adequately assess sequential laboratory findings demonstrating a fall in PCV, had initiated but not continued treatment with Vitamin K1 and had not recommended further diagnostics or referral for a dog with unexplained clinical signs. These actions were considered to indicate a lack of skill, judgement or care in the practice of veterinary science, in breach of Section 35(k) of Veterinary Practice Act 2003.
- A veterinarian was cautioned and fined as a result of failing to label medication dispensed in a syringe for the ongoing treatment of a horse on a property. When supplying a restricted substance a veterinarian must label the primary container. This labelling requirement is clearly described in the Guide to Poisons and Therapeutics Goods Legislation for Veterinary Practitioners and in the Poisons and Therapeutics Goods Regulation 2008 (cl 26).
- A veterinarian was cautioned for breaching conditions on their registration (Veterinary Practice Act 2003 (s 35(d))
- A veterinarian was cautioned for failing to notify the Board of changes to their contact details, such that it was not possible for the Board to contact them. It is a registered veterinarian's responsibility under the Veterinary Practice Act 2003 (s 31) to inform the Board within 14 days of any change in their name, address or other registered particulars.
- A veterinarian was cautioned and fined for supplying an incomplete and inaccurate certification of CPD points in their Annual Return. All registered veterinarians are reminded of the importance of ensuring that all information provided in the Annual Return is complete and accurate. If you are unable to meet CPD requirements due to personal circumstances affecting your ability to practice, you must inform the Board either in the Annual Return (Veterinary Practice Act 2003 (s 33) or as soon as is practicable (Veterinary Practice Regulation 2013 (sch 1)).
One veterinarian was found guilty of professional misconduct and fined after making comments on public radio regarding a fellow veterinarian that could have an adverse effect on the subject of the comments and on the profession. This action is a breach of clause 6 of the Veterinary practitioners code of professional conduct which specifically states: "A veterinary practitioner must not mislead, deceive or behave in such as way as to have an adverse effect on the standing of any veterinary practitioner or the veterinary profession".
On a final note, recent complaints before the Board have highlighted an area of concern in relation to communication amongst veterinarians in larger practices. There has been a trend in NSW towards larger veterinary practices, with more veterinarians employed in each practice, and often on a part-time basis. This situation, whilst advantageous in terms of sharing the workload, needs to be managed carefully to avoid potential problems with patient care, record keeping and client communication.
Particularly in larger emergency veterinary practices cases can be handled by a different veterinarian on every shift, and it is the responsibility of these veterinarians to ensure that record-keeping is kept up-to-date and suitable handover occurs at the end of each shift or between veterinarians treating these cases.
These records should also include any communication with the client.
Superintendents at these hospitals also have a responsibility to ensure appropriate procedures are in place to facilitate such communication amongst staff and with clients.