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GIVEN the structures that already exist, does the UK veterinary profession need to develop a new learned body? If so, what form should it take and what would it do that isn't being done already?

These questions are prompted by proposals put forward by an RCVS working party earlier this summer to develop the Fellowship of the Royal College into a learned society. The working party developed its proposals to help take forward plans to develop a new structure of veterinary specialisation, as agreed by the RCVS Council last year (VR, July 14, 2012, vol 171, pp 39-41). The idea was that ‘establishing an elite, limited member organisation will clarify the Fellowship and ensure that it is the highest award that can be bestowed by the College’. Under the proposals, members would be elected as fellows on the basis of their ‘significant meritorious contribution to the profession, to knowledge or to clinical practice’, and up to 1000 fellows could be elected. Once established, the Fellowship as a learned society would develop its own strategy and objectives, aligned to the strategic objectives of the RCVS. It would also have a chairperson and officers, responsible to the fellows and to the RCVS. It was suggested that it could ‘be a source of expert knowledge, undertake reviews, and comment upon important veterinary issues, undertake advocacy for the veterinary profession, and establish lectures and seminar series’ (VR, June 29, 2013, vol 172, p 671).

In outlining the proposals, the RCVS invited views from existing fellows and interested parties. The BVA discussed the matter at its Council meeting in July (VR, August 31, 2013, vol 173, pp 182-185) and has since submitted its response. Judging from its comments,1 it seems fair to say that it is not too keen on the idea.

Among other things, the BVA has concerns about how such a learned society might sit within the RCVS, and the appropriateness of aligning it with the profession's regulatory body. It objects to the idea of the Fellowship undertaking an advocacy role for the veterinary profession, arguing that, given the basis on which fellows would be elected, and ‘as it would be composed of a small number of veterinary surgeons with no mandate’, it would not be in a position to take a representational role. It is concerned, too, that advocacy of the profession by the Fellowship could lead to ‘confusion around the demarcation lines’ between the role of the RCVS and the role of the BVA. It strongly believes that the role of representation and advocacy does not sit well with the RCVS's role as regulator of the profession.

The BVA also has concerns about how the proposed body might be funded. Discussing the details of the election process, it suggests that a proposal that applicants should submit supporting statements from two sponsors, at least one of whom should normally be an existing fellow, could create the impression of a ‘closed shop’ or ‘club’.

Moves to change the system of veterinary specialisation have a long history of being controversial but, in this instance, the proposal to create a new learned body as part of this process seems to have raised the controversy to a new level. The fundamental question here seems to be whether the profession and society might benefit from a new learned society, and whether such a body is necessary to fulfil a need that is not currently being met. In other words, is something missing at present and would a new learned society fill the gap? If that is felt to be the case, questions then need to be asked about whether the society needs to be tied into the system of specialisation, how independent it should be and whether the RCVS is best placed to host it. It would seem important to clarify these issues before developing specific proposals.

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