2018 June - The Complaints Committee Report
Since December 2017 the Board has reviewed and determined 16 complaints. Of these complaints 14 were dismissed after investigation and two veterinarians were found guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct and cautioned.
The Board is very mindful of the stress and impact that a complaint investigation can have on the veterinary practitioner and the complainant.
The Board’s Complaints Officer is usually the first point of contact for members of the public with concerns. The Complaints Officer has training in counselling and dispute resolution and is able to listen to the complainant’s concerns and offer assistance and guidance in seeking a resolution.
In most cases, where appropriate, complainants are directed back to the hospital superintendent to discuss their concerns and attempt to resolve issues without needing to lodge a formal complaint. This provides an opportunity for the practice to engage with the complainant outside the formal complaints process.
Where the complainant’s concerns are outside the jurisdiction of the Board they will be directed to the appropriate agency
The Board does not investigate complaints about fees provided estimates are given and informed consent received for treatment as set out in the Veterinary practitioners code of professional conduct.
Once a formal complaint has been lodged in the form of a statutory declaration the Board has a legislated responsibility to investigate the complaint. Complainants have the ability to seek a review of Board processes by the Ombudsman. It is vital that the Board follows proper processes when a complaint is received.
The circumstances behind the two findings of unsatisfactory professional conduct that received cautions and fines up to $1,000 are summarised below:
- The Board found a veterinarian guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct in breach of the Veterinary Practice Act 2003 (Act) (s 35(d)) in that they had failed to comply with the condition on their registration to complete structured CPD points. The Board requires veterinarians to lodge a declaration of completed CPD each year. Where the amount of declared CPD does not meet the Board’s requirements, conditions will be placed on the veterinarian’s registration. This is usually to complete a set amount of CPD in a set timeframe and requirements are set out in the Board policy Failure to Meet CPD Requirements. Failure to comply with conditions on registration is unsatisfactory professional conduct and a penalty and further conditions will usually be applied to their registration.
- The Board found a veterinarian guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct under the Veterinary Practice Act 2003 (s 35(k)) in that they failed to identify and fully address post-operative complications following a tibial osteotomy procedure, specifically in relation to a displaced tibial tuberosity and that they administered an inappropriately low dose of antibiotics to treat an identified infection. Increasingly veterinarians are performing more advanced surgical procedures. Veterinarians must be able to identify common complications and be able to treat, seek assistance or refer such complications in cases that they have treated.
When investigating complaints there are often differing recollections of events. Clinical records provide a contemporaneous record of the veterinarian’s consultation, procedures performed and treatments.
This record must be made as soon as practicable and must include the results of any diagnostic tests, analysis and treatment. It must be legible and in sufficient detail to enable another veterinary practitioner to continue treatment of the animal.
If the record is altered after it is created, the alteration must be clearly identified in the record as such. At times additional information may need to be added to a clinical record. This should be added to the end of the record, identified as such and dated. Information should never be deleted from previously created records. The Board is able to audit records to identify if they have been altered.
There are a number of common issues that result in complaints being lodged.
Communication is more difficult in some circumstances especially where multiple veterinarians are involved in treatment, either in a multi-vet practice or where referral is sought or recommended. Similarly great care needs to be taken when the owner or person responsible of the care of the patient is not present during consultations. Parents, siblings or friends may present an animal for care.
All communications including phone calls, text messaging and emails should be recorded in clinical records.
Anaesthetic deaths are usually unexpected and very distressing for all involved. Some patients however present a higher anaesthetic risk including brachycephalic, sick and injured animals. These risks must be discussed and informed consent obtained, preferably in writing.