Following surgery on both shoulders, Martin Grundy had to move on from the Derbyshire practice in which he had worked happily for almost 30 years. However, he says, since being appointed as a claims consultant to the Veterinary Defence Society, he has never looked back.
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What are the main issues that you deal with?
Complaints and allegations against a veterinary surgeon or nurse of professional negligence and/or misconduct, many of which are totally unjustified. Two of the Society's golden rules for members are: (1) do not admit liability and (2) do not make an offer of reimbursement or compensation without our consent. Some vets think this precludes an apology or an expression of sympathy, and often it becomes apparent that, after a lengthy and time-consuming exchange of correspondence between vet and client, ‘Sorry’ was all the client was looking for. It is always fine to say ‘Sorry it happened,’ but never to add ‘and it was my fault’.
Claims for negligence are made against the practice, whereas complaints to the RCVS (generally about issues perceived by the client to be misconduct) come against the individual.
What does your job involve?
I spend a lot of time on the phone offering advice to veterinary surgeons, nurses and practice managers on a whole range of different subjects from, say, a cat that has escaped from the surgery to a ‘vasectomised’ ram that has sired 60 ugly crossbred lambs in a pedigree flock. Lots of calls involve checking draft written responses to complaints. Eleven claims consultants, ably assisted by two advice call handlers, dealt with almost 10,000 calls last year and the number continues to rise. However, we encourage members of the Society to make early contact if they see a claim against them on the horizon or when dealing with a difficult complainant, and the aim is to nip it in the bud. Naturally, we are not always successful at heading off a problem at this stage, and so a significant part of my working day is spent composing letters to claimants, in most cases defending the vet's position, but on occasion negotiating settlement of a genuine claim.
There has been a marked increase in animal owners reporting vets to the RCVS's professional conduct department and it has a duty to investigate every complaint. While I never write a vet's response for them, I do spend quite some time commenting on their draft before it goes off to Belgravia House. Sometimes, as part of their inquiries, representatives of the College visit a practice to conduct an interview, in which case a claims consultant will attend to offer our member support and to see fair play.
I liaise regularly with the Society's solicitors, who are instructed to represent our members’ interests in proceedings from the Small Claims Court to the High Court, and when accompanying a member at a court or disciplinary hearing, I act as the link between the vet and the lawyer.
A big chunk of my day is spent reading hundreds of pages of the Society's daily correspondence on screen, as we all try to keep up with each other's cases.
What do you like about your job?
Vigorously defending the reputation of a profession of which I am extremely proud. Phone-handholding vets, often young and inexperienced, who think they are going to be struck off for a relatively minor mishap. The banter within the claims group – we are a close team who work very well together. Lots of grateful ‘clients’ and never a dull moment.
What do you not like?
Complainants with totally unrealistic expectations of the vet, who is nearly always just trying to do his or her best.
Also, the lack of moral support and pastoral care of young assistants in some practices.
Why is your job important?
When a vet sees the sort of trouble I deal with looming, he or she always appreciates a listening ear and what I hope will be constructive advice.
What's the best piece of advice you were ever given?
‘Can’t's dead and try's very poorly.’
What's the best compliment anyone has ever paid you?
A Derbyshire farmer once told a colleague ‘Martin would be alright if he wasn’t always so bloody cheerful.’
What was your proudest moment?
Professionally – being appointed to this position, from which I still get as much satisfaction as when I began 13 years ago. Presidency of BCVA back in 1992 was also quite a highlight.
Personally – seeing our four children enter a profession, and now five grandchildren plus one on the way.
What was your most unusual claim?
Probably the most bizarre concerned an old lady who tripped over the large yellow sign in a waiting room saying ‘Danger – slippery floor’!
Do you ever receive amusing correspondence?
Yes, usually from claimants, but my favourite was from an Irish member who eventually responded to my fifth letter seeking information to help him by opening with ‘Dear Mr Grundy, Thank you for sharing with me your gift of patience!’
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