Receiving you loud and clear

When I joined the RCVS back in September 2012, I was at pains to point out the enormous value to an organisation of listening first and acting second. Indeed, the opening line of my first CEO update in RCVS News (November 2012) read:

‘When you arrive in an organisation, particularly when you are CEO, it is important to listen to your customers, to your staff and to your instincts. It is also important to amass evidence of what is good and what needs to change.’ (Page 9)

Naturally, I still stand by this. The first-rate regulator (FRR) initiative that I launched at Council that November was, above all, a comprehensive exercise in listening: listening to veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses, listening to animal owners, listening to RCVS Council members and staff, and listening to our stakeholders. We wanted to build on the good things we were doing and, where we fell short, challenge ourselves to be better.

I was delighted with the reaction to this initiative, especially the 5,000 or so responses we received from vets and VNs. Since then, we have invested a considerable amount of time and effort in evaluating and analysing the feedback we received, culminating in the publication of our ambitious strategic plan 12 months later.

I also said from the outset that we would be open and transparent about our plans and activities and that, where we made mistakes (which I predicted we would), we would be open and honest about them. And so we have been.

“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.” Bernard M. Baruch

The profession’s reaction to aspects of the Disciplinary Committee’s decision in the Chikosi case was significant, and it was clear to me that we needed to tackle these concerns head on. Whilst fully supporting the DC’s overall decision, the Operational Board subsequently issued a clarification about a particularly contentious issue, and our Standards Committee has since undertaken a full and extensive consultation exercise on the provision of 24-hour emergency veterinary cover, the recommendations from which will be submitted to Council in June.

More recently, we have come under pretty intense scrutiny for our decision to remove members’ postgraduate postnominals from the Register in order to make things easier for the public to understand. Seeing as Council approved this decision back in 2012, after a full consultation on specialisation during 2011, I have to admit that the sudden intensity of feeling that erupted just a couple of weeks ago rather caught us by surprise! Nevertheless, rather than burying our head in the sand, we listened to the concerns voiced by the profession and decided that there may be alternative solutions that are more acceptable to all involved. The Operational Board has therefore asked Council to review its 2012 decision at its June meeting.

Man burying head in sand
Rather than burying our head in the sand, we listened to the concerns voiced by the profession and decided that there may be alternative solutions more acceptable to all involved

Now, these specific topics have attracted acute interest amongst the profession, culminating in a rapid mobilisation of numerous individuals expressing their opinion via social media and online petitions, as well as more traditional methods such as email, letters to the College and the press, and face-to-face conversations. (I’m all for this, incidentally, although I wouldn’t want there to be a referendum every time the College makes a decision!) So why is it, that when the same people are also asked to take a little time out to decide who should be in charge of making these decisions in the first place, the metaphorical tumbleweed blows into town?

Just 4,137 veterinary surgeons and 1,157 veterinary nurses voted in this year’s Councils elections, representing a mere 16.1% and 10% of the two professions, respectively (and a fall in both turnouts compared to last year). Obviously, my thanks to those who took the trouble to vote, but to the 31,974 veterinary professionals who didn’t, I would like to ask, why not?

We have been repeatedly reminded of late that our communications need to be a two-way process, that we need to engage more closely with the professions and to listen, not just speak. I wholeheartedly endorse this approach, but, equally, I would maintain that vets and nurses have a professional responsibility to keep in touch, to respond, to get involved and, of course, to vote! You lose the moral authority to complain about the College if you essentially do your utmost to ignore everything it does and says.

So, why not start straight away? We have just launched another consultation on the future direction of our highest award – the RCVS Fellowship – and would welcome your input. Alternatively, and as I have said from my first day in Belgravia House, you can raise any issues with me directly via

I can’t promise that I will agree with you, but I will always listen to what you have to say.

5 thoughts on “Receiving you loud and clear

  1. Pingback: Receiving you loud and clear - Members' Announcements - Vet Surgeon

  2. Hello Nick

    Thank you for your candid blog. I hope you also appreciate my rather candid comments.
    I qualified in 2001 from RVC and, apart from a couple of maternity breaks, have worked as an equine vet ever since.
    I have never voted in any RCVS elections. I ask myself why, and it’s mainly for these reasons:
    1) I have no idea what these people I would be voting for do and how one candidate would differ from another. I have no understanding of the mechanics behind the RCVS, how decisions are made and how in touch with the everyday practitioner the council members are. How would me choosing one candidate over another affect me in real terms?

    2) to be even more brutally honest, I see the RCVS as a governing body which I pay fees to so that I can practice. I rather naively see the RCVS as a disciplinary body enforcing codes of conduct and ensuring the safety of the public (which of course needs doing) but I don’t understand what you do for us “average joe” vets in practice. In other words I probably have no real understanding of what you guys do and my assumptions may be well off the mark- similar to euro sceptics thinking the EU does nothing for us!!

    The first I heard of both the 24 hour out of hours coverage and of the postgraduate qualifications being removed from the register was via Facebook posts and petitions. Now, this may be my fault in not keeping up to speed with developments, but clearly I am not alone. I have a busy job and a busier family life. If there are any ways the RCVS can improve communications with vets in practice, I think this would be welcomed. Can you confirm how these issues on specialisation were publicised in 2011? I missed the debate completely.

    These issues have made me aware that it is important for me to keep abreast of developments in the RCVS offices, but perhaps, you also need to shout a bit louder!

    I am one of many vets who are becoming increasingly worried about the devaluation of our profession. Practices are popping up all over the place and some are sailing pretty close to the edge when it comes to unethical tactics to score new clients. I spoke to one of the Partners in my Practice about a particularly unethical new equine practice that has opened up in our area- causing a loss of approximately 30% of our client base and creating fear of job security amongst the assistants. (At one point they told our clients I was joining them when I returned from maternity leave- which was totally untrue. As a result, I have no idea how many of my faithful clients bought this and switched vets whilst I was on aforementioned maternity leave). I suggested my boss contact the RCVS about them. His reply was that nothing would get done about it without huge amounts of proof, so no point in doing anything. This angered me and increased my dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs. Practices are undercutting each other in every effort to get clients, selling services below cost as loss-leaders. Offers such as free visits, horse castrations for under £70 are commonplace. I really can’t see how it can carry on like this without driving some practices out of business and totally destroying the credibility and value of our veterinary skills.

    Right! Rant over! I do so hope the RCVS can address at least some of my points raised and give me hope for the future of our noble profession. 🙂

    • Many thanks for your feedback and comments, Charlotte.

      I’m sorry to hear you’ve never voted, although you make an interesting argument for not doing. It may be that others also share your view that elections are not relevant for a governing body whose primary purpose is to protect the public (and, in our case, their animals), which might, in part, explain why the turnout is so low. Certainly most, if not all, other professional (medical) regulators in the UK now have appointed, rather than elected, Councils.

      Even so, I would suggest that a number of aspects of our regulatory role do actually have a direct impact on you and all those in front-line practice, which might persuade you of the importance of choosing who you think should be elected to Council to help make these decisions.

      For instance, you mention the Code of Conduct, which, with its detailed supporting guidance, sets the standards expected of you in your day-to-day professional life. This Code, together with our telephone and email advice that stems from it, is set and updated by our Standards Committee, which includes elected Council members.

      Your retention fee, the payment of which, as you rightly point out, entitles you to practise in the UK, is set and agreed by Council. (This may or may not have anything to do with the fact that it has actually been frozen at the same level for the past five years – not something that members of your sister professions have been able to enjoy!)

      The standard of education at the UK’s veterinary schools is monitored and advanced through the work of our Education Committee, and the visitation teams it sends to each school on a four-yearly basis. You will have benefited directly from this whilst studying at the RVC, and the solid foundation it has since provided for your professional development.

      Which brings me to other areas of lifelong learning that the College, through the work of Council members, seeks to promote and encourage, be that extra-mural studies, the professional development phase, or continuing professional development.

      Indeed, the framework we set for postgraduate education – in the form of certificates, diplomas and fellowships – actually comes from our Royal Charter (rather than statutory) powers, but it is still the same members of Council who oversee and direct these activities for the benefit of veterinary professionals and the animals they care for.

      Inevitably, I can only provide a flavour here of everything the College is involved in, so I would encourage you to come along to one of our regular ‘Meet the RCVS’ days in London, or to the next RCVS Regional Question Time meeting that’s in your vicinity, to find out more. Alternatively, if you’d like to invite me to visit your practice, I’d be glad to!

      With regard to our communications activities, I suspect our ‘shouting’ can never be loud enough, especially considering how busy veterinary professionals are, and the diversity of communications channels and media available today. Online forums, petitions and social media can get up a head of steam so rapidly, that organisations are often left playing catch up!

      Nevertheless, the specialisation consultation was published on our website in October 2011. We promoted it through latest news online and in our free email newsletter, RCVS e-News. The press release we issued about it was picked up in the mainstream veterinary media (for example, The Veterinary Record) and it was the cover story of our own paper publication, RCVS News, which is posted to all MsRCVS. We also promoted it on twitter throughout the consultation period.

      The points you raise in your penultimate paragraph are not dissimilar to some I have heard from other veterinary surgeons I visit in practice around the country, who are aggrieved about the conduct of their fellow professionals. You’ll appreciate that I can’t discuss any details here, but I would like to reassure you and your colleague that you should always call the College for advice about such matters. You may not wish to lodge a formal complaint, but we can help in other ways. A quick phone call from my colleagues in the Professional Conduct Department to all parties involved can often resolve the problem very quickly!

      I hope the above has alleviated some of your concerns, Charlotte, at least enough to persuade you of the importance of voting in next year’s Council election!

  3. Hi Nick

    l used to care but now l don’t l have not bothered to vote as a vn for vn council for l think several years now. Basically l don’t trust rcvs not to screw nurses to the wall to save a vet. I have nothing against one day voluntarily taking the r part IF l trusted the rcvs but l don’t.yet not by a long shot.

    I am still in the dark about what l get for my money you take.. oh l know l get permission to be a vn but l do not even get a card nowadays to say l am registered. It wasn’t the card that counted it was that l got something in my hand for the money l paid.

    l do know what rcvs do with it as l did the meet the rcvs day a few years back. Interesting visit, liked the food… unimpressed with the organisation and still am.
    Leaving aside the r comment and the fact l like and trust black mambas more.than l like or trust rcvs….Two points spring to mind.
    As a vn l was informed at the meet the rcvs day when we were in the library can borrow books from the rcvs library for free (only pay P & P if sent out) and if we get online we could read all the library content that’s there for free.. Well l tried once after the talk they didn’t know what l was talking about.I could only make use if l paid extra for it.
    We were told when you are in London as a member you can come in have some food and/or coffee leave shopping while walking round the shops. The only day this would be difficult is disciplinary day so ring first.
    Fair enough l rang and no one knew what the hell l was talking about no l couldn’t use the place as we had been told.

    Jill Nute came in and did try to help us vn she did her best to kick things along and she was the one invited me down for the rcvs day as l was venting my feelings…l do every so often, however she moved on and others moved in.
    It appears to me the want to do something useful waxes and wanes with whoever is in and so as such you all remain politicians and way beyond my trust.

    Caro Laithwaite
    listed vn

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