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RCVS Council
RCVS decides on new governance arrangements


  • New governance arrangements, including an operational board

  • Chief executive's update on recent progress

  • Requirement on vets to disclose convictions

These were among matters discussed by the RCVS Council at its meeting on March 7. The RCVS President, Jacqui Molyneux, chaired the meeting, which was held at Belgravia House, London SW1P.

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INTRODUCING a paper outlining new governance arrangements for the RCVS, the President, Jacqui Molyneux, explained that the proposals had been discussed in detail by the various RCVS committees and that, in general, they had been supported by them.

The paper noted that, at the November 2012 meeting of the RCVS Council, proposals for the creation of an operational board had been broadly supported (VR, December 1, 2012, vol 171, p 552). Since then, an additional Council workshop had been held in January 2013 to discuss the issue further. Under the proposals, the operational board would deal with the day-to-day running of the College, while the RCVS Council would take the strategic decisions. Other proposed changes concerned the relationship between the Council and its committees, with the paper outlining a proposed system of delegation from the RCVS Council to the Treasurer, operational board or committees.

A number of Council members commented on a proposal that RCVS committees should not include an officer as a member. Instead, it was being proposed that each main committee should invite one officer regularly to attend its meetings as an observer.

Photographs: I. Holloway/RCVS Jacqui Molyneux, the RCVS President, chairs the Council meeting on March 7

David Catlow said that this seemed to be denying officers the right to attend committee meetings, and this might potentially keep officers ‘out of the loop’. He felt it was important that officers should hear discussions that took place within committee meetings.

The RCVS Council in session at Belgravia House in London

Jerry Davies, RCVS vice-president, said he believed that officers would choose to attend committee meetings as observers. In his experience as an officer, there was ‘an awful lot of material to try to get your head round’, and the intention behind the proposals was for each officer to ‘major’ in different areas for the three years they were on the officer team. All officers could attend meetings and listen to proceedings, although they would not be members of the committees.

Mrs Molyneux added that the chairs of each of the committees would become members of the operational board, so there would be greater direct reporting from the committees.

Barry Johnson said that all three members of the presidential team should attend all the main committee meetings as they would be expected to deal with questions from members and the public outside of the meetings. ‘You only really get that feel for what a committee is doing if you've been there,’ he said.

He was supported by Peter Jinman, who added that there was a need to define which committees were the ‘main’ ones.

Jill Nute commented that most past-presidents of the College would agree that it was easier to answer questions from members at events such as regional question time meetings if they had been present at a committee meeting. However, this did not mean an officer had to be a member of the committee.

Nick Stace, the RCVS's chief executive, said that there had been a feeling in the past that the officers acted as a ‘block vote’ at committee meetings. Under the new system, officers would still be entitled to attend committee meetings and it may be that they wished to continue to do so. The new system would be reviewed in a year's time, and he suggested that the Council should wait to see how it worked.

The paper was accepted. The new arrangements will come into force after the RCVS's annual general meeting on July 5.

The Council also approved another paper setting out the committee structure that will operate until the AGM, together with revised general administration byelaws. The newly revised byelaws no longer lay down the constitution and terms of reference of the RCVS committees or the roles and delegated powers of the officers’ meetings. The intention is that the Council instead approves a statement each year setting out the governance structure, without having to go through the procedures for amending byelaws.

Chief executive's update

GIVING what he described as a ‘warts and all’ update, the RCVS's chief executive, Nick Stace, discussed progress with a number of initiatives within the College since the last Council meeting in November 2012.

Regarding the ‘first-rate regulator’ initiative, Mr Stace reported that just under 5000 vets, veterinary nurses and practice managers had responded to a survey organised by the RCVS (VR, December 8, 2012, vol 171, p 578), and about one-third of the people who had made a complaint against a veterinary surgeon in the past two years had been interviewed in depth. The initiative had been a substantial piece of work, he said, and the full results were now coming through. There was ‘no putting this back in the box’, and, having asked the profession how it could improve, the College had a responsibility to respond and to come up with plans for doing so.

There had also been a restructuring of the management within the College. Mr Stace now had six direct reports, rather than 12; weekly senior team meetings were held and two new staff members had been recruited, including a ‘customer experience manager’ to help improve the RCVS's relationship with vets and the public.

Quite a lot of time had been devoted to considering the Practice Standards Scheme, he reported. This largely reflected the consultation that had been held with the profession (VR, November 17, 2012, vol 171, p 488) and also knowledge of what the public felt the scheme should be doing. ‘The public certainly have a view that the core, mandatory standards should be inspected on all premises,’ he said, ‘so we're looking at whether that is something that we should do.’ The College was also taking into account the feedback given by the profession on how it thought the scheme could be improved.

Nick Stace: having asked for views on how it could improve, the RCVS has a responsibility to respond

Turning to reform of the governance of the RCVS, Mr Stace said that, as a result of the new arrangements, the Council would be much more involved in the strategic decisions – indeed, there would be three additional Council meetings in 2013 to discuss issues such as the first-rate regulator initiative and the College's strategic plan.

Mr Stace also reported that 163 applications had been received for positions on the RCVS's Preliminary Investigation and Disciplinary Committees following approval of a Legislative Reform Order allowing the committees to be reconstituted separately from the Council. Approximately two-thirds of the applications had come from lay people, he said, and the remainder from veterinary surgeons.

Refurbishment of the first, second and third floors of the RCVS's headquarters building, Belgravia House, was almost complete and was £9000 under budget. The office space had been opened up and made more open plan to help encourage staff to work across different teams. Some 600 bags of rubbish had been disposed of, 10 van loads of furniture had been recycled and 800 boxes had been put into storage.

Mr Stace also presented the results of a survey of staff engagement. The survey had been intended to indicate how well the RCVS's staff engaged with their role, with the College and its aims, and how they felt about the organisation. He reported that the results showed that there were a number of areas where things were going well, but there were also areas of concern that presented challenges for him as chief executive and for the Council. These included how change was managed, how staff worked with the Council, internal communications and leadership.

Disclosure of convictions

INTRODUCING a paper on veterinary surgeons having to disclose convictions as a requirement of registration, Gordon Hockey, the RCVS Registrar, explained that this principle was established in the new Code of Professional Conduct, which replaced the Guide to Professional Conduct in April 2012. The Council was asked to approve the introduction of the requirement on a voluntary basis in 2013 and on a mandatory basis in 2014.

Mr Hockey explained that veterinary surgeons who were already on the RCVS Register would be required to disclose any convictions dating from April 2006, which was when convictions were first automatically notified to the College. Veterinary surgeons applying for registration would be required to disclose all convictions, however old these might be.

In terms of what would have to be disclosed, Mr Hockey said that cautions and convictions, including absolute and conditional discharges and spent convictions, would be required, except minor traffic offences dealt with by way of a fixed penalty notice. Any convictions disclosed would, if necessary, be considered by the Preliminary Investigation Committee and, if appropriate, referred to the Disciplinary Committee.

The paper was agreed by the Council.

Management and recording of risk

AN update on the work of the RCVS's Audit and Risk Committee (ARC) was given by Liz Butler, the committee's independent chair.

Mrs Butler explained that the committee had been looking at the issue of risk and how it was approached by the College. It had, she said, been fairly critical of the approach and had set some challenges for the staff team around assessing, recording and managing risk. She reported that the committee had been ‘amazed’ at the quality and quantity of the work that had been done in a very short period of time – ‘going from a very rudimentary register that was not fit for purpose to having what we believe is a really good start’ – and was ‘delighted’ with the progress being made. The risk management document needed to be a living document, she said.

Liz Butler – reported that the Audit and Risk Committee is now considering financial control within the RCVS

The committee was now considering financial control within the RCVS, she reported. There were currently some questions about what information the ARC was allowed to see, and clarity was needed on this. However, after a first review, the committee felt that financial control within the College ‘looked good’, but the framework for control was not written down in any one place. The College needed standing financial instructions, she said, and a clear system of delegation down from the Treasurer into the organisation through the chief executive.

Overall, Mrs Butler said, the early stages of the development of the ARC were going well, and she felt that the committee members were working together well.

RCVS Council News in Brief

‘Top 10′ medicines lists

Clare Tapsfield-Wright, chair of the RCVS Advisory Committee, told the Council that the Office of Fair Trading had agreed that, for an interim period of six months, practices could stop displaying information on the top 10 medicines that they supplied. The situation would be monitored, she said, and could become permanent (see VR, March 16, 2013, vol 172, p 277).

Accounts for 2012

The draft accounts for 2012 were ‘healthy’, said the Treasurer, Bradley Viner, particularly in view of the fact that the 2012 retention fee had been frozen at the 2011 level. There had been an increase in registration income due in part to an increased number of registrants and in part to an increase in temporary memberships as a result of the London Olympics and Paralympics

Byelaws for disciplinary committees

The Council approved byelaws for the Preliminary Investigation and Disciplinary Committees, which will be reconstituted following the introduction of the Legislative Reform Order in April. Among other things, the byelaws specify conditions as to an individual's fitness to serve as a member of one of the committees, require the Council to establish an independent selection committee to recommend candidates for committee membership, and introduce an appraisal system for committee members.

Regulation of veterinary nurses

The veterinary nursing profession was ‘one step closer to statutory regulation’, reported Kathy Kissick, chair of the RCVS Veterinary Nurses Council (VNC). The VNC was now in a position to present formal proposals for a framework for regulation to Defra in order to seek legislation to protect the title ‘veterinary nurse’, she said. Nigel Gibbens, the Chief Veterinary Officer, said that Defra welcomed the opportunity to discuss this issue and looked forward to hearing from the VNC. There were, of course, ‘all the usual caveats’ regarding parliamentary time, he said.

Register of Practice Premises

Dr Viner told the Council that the fee for inclusion in the Register of Veterinary Practice Premises would be reduced from £40 to £34 from April 1 this year. The reduced fee would remain in place for the next four years.

Sydney veterinary school

The Council approved continued recognition of the BVSc degree offered by the University of Sydney veterinary school.

Nomination of vice-president

The Council endorsed the nomination of Stuart Reid as the incoming vice-president for 2013/14. Professor Reid's name will go forward to the RCVS's AGM on July 5.

Fitness to practise

Veterinary students had expressed concern about the meaning of ‘fitness to practise’, reported Jo Price, vice-chair of the Education Policy and Specialisation Group and head of Bristol veterinary school. It had been intimated to the Heads of Veterinary Schools that some students might not come forward when they had concerns about issues that might affect their welfare because they were worried that it might be reflected on their record. It was important that all the veterinary schools were consistent in how they defined ‘fitness to practise’ issues, she said, and work needed to be done to ensure this.

Share Jones lecture

The Council approved the nomination of Professor Dr Christoph Mülling as the 2013 Share Jones lecturer. The British Cattle Veterinary Association has been asked if it would host the lecture as part of its annual conference as Professor Mülling is an authority on bovine lameness and foot anatomy.

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