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Clarifying roles

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GIVEN that it is almost 50 years since the RCVS last updated its Royal Charter, the introduction of a new charter for the College is a significant event and one that could affect the development of the veterinary profession in the UK for decades to come. The new charter came into effect on February 17 having been approved by the Privy Council in November following endorsement at the College's annual general meeting in July (VR, July 19, 2014, vol 175, p 57), and less than 18 months after the RCVS first consulted the profession and the public on what it should contain (VR, December 21, 2013, vol 173, p 595). That this has been achieved in such a short timescale is remarkable, particularly when compared with the protracted and not always fruitful discussions that have taken place over the years about updating the Veterinary Surgeons Act. The BVA contributed to the consultation and worked closely with the College on the final wording of the charter, and was one of the first to congratulate the College as it came into effect.

The new charter sets out the objects of the RCVS, which are ‘to set, uphold and advance veterinary standards, and to promote, encourage and advance the study and practice of the art and science of veterinary surgery and medicine, in the interests of the health and welfare of animals and in the wider public interest’. It also allows the College to ‘undertake any activities which seem to it necessary or expedient to help to achieve its objects’ and includes a non-exhaustive list of some the activities it might undertake.

A key feature of the charter, and one that has been welcomed by the British Veterinary Nursing Association, the BVA and others, is that it recognises veterinary nursing as a profession. It does this by requiring the RCVS to continue to keep a list of veterinary nurses, to be known as the Register of Veterinary Nurses, and giving registered veterinary nurses – RVNs – the formal status of associates of the College. The RCVS explains that, with the charter having come into effect, it will no longer be keeping a List as well as a Register of veterinary nurses; as a result, there are no longer any ‘listed’ veterinary nurses and all those formerly on the List have effectively been moved to the Register. All RVNs will be expected to abide by the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct for Veterinary Nurses and will be subject to disciplinary proceedings in cases of serious professional misconduct. They will also be expected to undertake a total of at least 45 hours of continuing professional development in any three-year period, with an average of 15 hours per year. Standards for the education, training and conduct of veterinary nurses will be set by the Veterinary Nurses Council. Information about the VN Register, as well as a document giving answers to ‘frequently asked questions’ about how the changes affect listed veterinary nurses, are available on the RCVS website at www.rcvs.org.uk/registration/about-the-vn-register

Although recognition of veterinary nursing as a profession is the aspect that has received most attention, it is by no means the only activity covered by the charter. Others include, for example, accrediting veterinary education, training and qualifications; setting standards for and accrediting veterinary practices and other suppliers of veterinary services; and facilitating the resolution of disputes between registered persons and their clients. The provision on keeping lists or registers of veterinary nurses also refers to other classes of associate, which presumably provides an option of possibly including other professionals under the RCVS regulatory umbrella in the future. It will be interesting to see how this and other provisions are taken forward in the years ahead.

The RCVS is not the only veterinary organisation to have clarified its role this month. Also in February, the BVA published a three-year strategy setting out its plans for 2015 to 2017. Describing the BVA's mission as ‘to be the leading body representing, supporting and championing the whole UK veterinary profession’, the strategy sets out four clear aims for the Association, which are: being an effective voice for the veterinary profession; delivering improved value and support for BVA members; building relationships and working in partnership; and ensuring it has the resources it needs to be effective (see p 211 of this issue).

The publication of the BVA's strategy at the same time as the RCVS starts working under its new charter is helpful, as it could help avoid some of the confusion about the respective roles of the two organisations that has sometimes arisen in the past. On the specific matter of its working relationship with the College, the BVA says that it ‘will work constructively with the RCVS to provide leadership for the profession, but will stand up for [its] members when necessary’. For the time being, however, the two organisations seem to be working together well, not just in relation to obtaining a new charter for the veterinary profession but also in collaborating on the Vet Futures project (vetfutures.org.uk), which is currently trying to identify the challenges facing the profession and what should be done about them (VR, February 7, 2015, vol 176, p 132). At a time when the veterinary profession and what society requires of it are changing rapidly, it is important that the profession itself should take a lead in shaping its future.

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