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IT IS not omnipotent, nor can it be expected to be omnicompetent. However, there is no doubt that the RCVS is important, and that decisions taken by its Council affect not only animal health and welfare, but the lives of all practising veterinary surgeons in the UK. In view of this, the RCVS Council elections are also important, as they give members a chance to influence the decisions that will be made. Voting papers for this year’s election, including candidates’ statements and other details, have recently been distributed by the College. Twelve candidates are standing this year, of whom six will be elected. Their statements are reproduced on pp 352-356 of this issue. The College is not alone in urging all members to read these statements and exercise their right to vote. This is all the more important at a time when the profession, and the environment in which it operates, is changing rapidly.
The profession’s regulatory body, the RCVS defines its role as: ‘To safeguard the health and welfare of animals committed to veterinary care through the regulation of the educational, ethical and clinical standards of the veterinary profession, thereby protecting the interests of those dependent on animals and assuring public health’; and ‘to act as an impartial source of informed opinion on animal health and welfare issues and their interaction with human health’. As things stand, it acts as a statutory regulator undertaking the responsibilities set out in the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966. This involves maintaining a register of veterinary surgeons eligible to practise in the UK, regulating veterinary education and regulating professional conduct. In addition, it acts as a ‘Royal College’, exercising powers under its Royal Charter to award fellowships, diplomas and certificates, and acting as an informed and impartial source of opinion on veterinary matters. The RCVS Trust is a separate charity, established to promote and advance the study and practice of the art and science of veterinary surgery and medicine. Out of a total membership of 40, 24 members of the RCVS Council are elected. Six candidates can be elected each year, and serve for a period of four years.
Regulation of the profession should not be confused with representing the profession, which is more the remit of the BVA.
Changing expectations are leading to changes in the way the professions are regulated. For the time being, the Government has other things on its mind than a new Veterinary Surgeons Act. However, new legislation is likely at some stage and the RCVS, in consultation with the profession, continues to refine its ideas on what it would like to see in a new Act. In the meantime, in the absence of new legislation, it continues to press ahead with measures aimed at fulfiling its vision of how veterinary activity should be regulated in the future. A new Practice Standards Scheme is now in place, and will be launched to the public at the end of this month. At its meeting last November, the RCVS Council decided that CPD should be promoted as mandatory and that a professional development phase (PDP) should be introduced for all new veterinary graduates from 2006/07 (VR, November 12, 2005, vol 157, pp 606-608). More recently, the College has issued proposals for a new system of postgraduate certificates, aimed at providing a modular route to a recognised level of attainment for veterinary surgeons in general practice. Under the proposals, which are available for comment on the RCVS website (www.rcvs.org.uk), assessment of individual modules will be devolved to accredited universities rather than being undertaken by the College itself. The aim will be to integrate the modules with other university courses and awards, to ‘improve the coherence of CPD provision nationally’, and ‘give candidates a greater range of progression pathways than has previously existed’.
As a self-regulating profession, veterinary surgeons must continue to anticipate and respond to changing circumstances, and many initiatives being developed by the College have been introduced with this in mind. Practice standards, compulsory CPD, a postgraduate development phase and modular certificates all form elements of the College’s framework for CPD and lifelong learning among veterinary surgeons, and for meeting public and professional expectations as well as regulatory demands in the future. They also have practical implications for practitioners, which in itself provides a reason to take an interest in the developments and to vote in the Council elections.
Similarly, given the range of activities undertaken by the profession and the challenges currently confronting it, it remains important that its regulatory body reflects the breadth of expertise available within the profession, and puts this to best effect. This is another reason for members to consider the candidates’ statements, and exercise their right to vote.
With so much at stake, it is surprising that more members do not vote in the Council elections. More members voted in last year’s election than in previous years, but the proportion was still low, at 18 per cent. Low electoral returns are causing concern in mainstream politics, and it has been suggested that this is because voters are unable to relate to the issues. This should not be the case in the veterinary field. No veterinary surgeons are unaffected by the decisions made by their regulatory body. Is it too much to hope that this year’s RCVS Council elections will buck the national trend?