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THE RCVS Practice Standards Scheme was launched in January 2005. The new arrangements introduced new ‘core’ standards and incorporated the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) and RCVS/British Veterinary Hospitals Association standards which had existed until then into a single, unified scheme. Three levels of accreditation are available under the scheme. The tier 1, ‘core’ standards mainly reflect legal and health and safety requirements and are relevant to all veterinary practices. The tier 2 standards, for which formerly BSAVA-approved and veterinary nurse training practices were eligible, represent a higher level of accreditation; the tier 3 standards represent the highest level of accreditation and apply only to premises achieving veterinary hospital status.
The RCVS reports that, since the launch of the scheme last January, good progress has been made. So far, 824 practices have signed up to the scheme; between them they account for 1769 practice premises, representing nearly 50 per cent of the UK total. Of the 1769 premises either accredited or in the process of being accredited, 90 had not belonged to any of the previous schemes.
For the time being, participation is voluntary, but the College’s aim, in the event of a new Veterinary Surgeons Act, is that the scheme should become compulsory. In the meantime, it continues to encourage practices to join the scheme with a view to achieving as wide an uptake as possible. The number of practices involved continues to grow, and it is important that the momentum is maintained. Many practices that have still to join the scheme will already be meeting the core standards and, with this in mind, the BVA has produced an online information pack for members, giving practical advice on meeting the specific requirements of the scheme.
Having launched the scheme within the profession and achieved what it considers to be a sufficient critical mass of participating practices, the College now plans to launch it to the public. A launch event is planned for March 30 and the scheme will continue to be promoted thereafter. Explaining the scheme to the public is no mean task, not least because many people do not understand the role of the Royal College, the different veterinary qualifications or the differences in types of practice. With this in mind, the College has undertaken some market research among animal owners to help determine how the issue should be approached (see p 74). How the message is communicated will be important, because a better understanding of the scheme may affect clients’ choice of practice. This may provide an incentive for practices that have not yet joined the scheme to do so. In any event, it will be important that the ground rules are clear and that the public’s understanding of the scheme is correct.
The results from the market research suggest that the public’s understanding of how veterinary activity is regulated is poor, with many of those involved believing that practice premises are already subject to regulation and have been for some time. The RCVS reports that the research indicated that owners trust their vets, but nevertheless thought that the Practice Standards Scheme was necessary and ought to be compulsory. According to the RCVS, this could reflect a general trend among consumers to be more demanding and questioning. By instigating the accreditation scheme at this stage, it hopes to keep the profession ahead of the game in meeting public expectations.
One of the Royal College’s conclusions from the market research is that, in explaining the scheme to the public, it must stick to a simple, straightforward message. With this in mind, it plans at this stage to focus on the broad concept of accreditation. It will differentiate solely between accredited and non-accredited practices and leave it to practices involved in the scheme to explain to their clients the differences between tiers.
For some in the profession, it may seem that the RCVS is moving too quickly in launching the scheme to the public; others may feel frustrated that the scheme is not being explained in more detail and argue that the College is not moving quickly enough. Achieving the right balance is not going to be easy; however, there is a need to move forward at some stage if the scheme is to reach its potential and if public and professional expectations are to be met.