Our veterinary surgeons and clinics are the places and people that we trust to take care of our pets, managing their preventative treatments such as vaccinations, and helping them when they are sick or injured too. Your vet and the clinic staff are the knowledgeable, qualified professionals that you rely upon to know what is best for our pets, and make the right decisions when it comes to their care and health. But what can you do if something goes wrong, your vet makes a mistake or otherwise fails to deliver the level of service that you have the right to expect from them?
Whilst thankfully rare, veterinary malpractice can happen, and it is a good idea for pet owners as the consumers of these services to find out what they can do about it if something does go wrong. Read on to learn more.
Most of us will register with one of the local practices that serve the areas that we live in when it comes to selecting a vet, but few people undertake any research into the clinic first! All practices in the UK have to be registered with the RCVS (Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons), who manage and police veterinary surgeons and other professionals in the field, such as qualified veterinary nurses. Make sure that your vet is registered, and if they are not, report them to the RCVS straight away! While there has only been one case in the UK of a “vet” operating without qualifications or formal registration, once is one too many!
Also, before you enrol with a practice, ask around to find out what other local pet owners think of their services, read online reviews, and Google the names of the vets that treat your own pets.
While this is not a guaranteed way to predict the future care your pet will receive, it will probably give you a heads up of any problems they have had before you sign up.
If you suspect that something that your vet did as part of your pet’s care was inappropriate, neglectful, not well thought out or just plain wrong and this had a negative effect on the health of your pet, or caused you to be charged more for services than you think was truly reasonable, you will need to carefully consider what to do next.
Re-evaluate the situation, what happened and how things played out, and make a written record of how things went down. Talk to your vet again and ask them to address any queries or inconsistencies that you have found, and to explain in full how they came to go about things in the way that they did. Working with your vet, or a managing partner of the clinic that treated your pet in the first instance can often help to resolve things before they escalate.
Your first step when you have failed to resolve things with the clinic that treated your pet is to make a formal report to the RCVS, which manages the registration and regulation of all veterinary surgeons practicing in the UK.
This is important for many reasons, not least because the RCVS will conduct a full and detailed investigation into what went on, analysing the occurrence and peer-reviewing the behaviour of the clinic as part of your pet’s treatment.
The RCVS is the professional body that can help to resolve incidents, keep a record of complaints made against a clinic or individual vet, and provide the expertise to be able to analyse the situation without emotion.
You can download the RCVS’s guide to veterinary negligence and malpractice here, to give you some more information on how to make a formal complaint and what happens once you have.
It is also worth noting that while the RCVS will of course investigate every report made to them, it does not necessarily mean that they will find in your favour.
If you have failed to resolve things with the clinic itself, your next step is to take professional advice on what to do next. This may mean taking legal advice, and should also keeping the RCVS itself up to date on how you are proceeding, in order to appraise them of the issue and allow them to take this into account as part of their own investigation into what happened.
While reporting a problem to the RCVS does not cost anything and may be all that you need to do to resolve the issue, you may also need to take professional legal advice, preferably from a solicitor that specialises in similar issues. Either your solicitor or you yourself may also need to hire another veterinary surgeon to review what happened and make an assessment of the situation, although this is generally done as part of the investigation by the RCVS.
One thing that you should have clear in your mind from the get-go, and something that you will likely be asked multiple times by people like the vet that you used, the RCVS and potentially, your solicitor, is what you ultimately would like to happen as a result of your complaint.
Only you can decide what this means to you, whether what you simply want is a better understanding of what happened with your pet and why, an apology, financial restitution, or for the vet or clinic in question to be taken to task either through the courts or the RCVS.
Obviously, what you want is not necessarily what you will get at the end of the procedure, which can be long and complicated to follow. Not all cases of veterinary malpractice are found in favour of the complainant, and you must be prepared to accept that your case may not be successful.
However, it is also important to speak out when you feel that something has gone wrong, both because you are entitled to seek restitution if your vet was negligent or committed malpractice, and to help to prevent any other pet owner having to go through the same problem in the future.