Looking to the future with an eye on the past

One of the many traditions that abound around this time of year, amidst the carol-singing, over-indulging, panic buying and, in our house, the magic of Father Christmas, the notes up the chimney and the excitement of young children – is the tendency to cast an eye back over the last 12 months and to wonder what the next 12 might have in store.

Now, whilst I would generally consider myself more of a reformer than a traditionalist, this is one tradition that I don’t mind participating in. As the old adage says, in order to know where you’re going, you must know where you’ve been.

Walking the dogs in the snow

In order to know where you’re going, you must know where you’ve been

So what have been some of the key issues and achievements for the College in 2014, and how might these shape our activities in 2015 and beyond?

Listening

As you may well have read on these pages before, a key objective of mine when joining the RCVS as CEO was to truly listen to what our many stakeholders – be they vets, vet nurses, students or members of the public – had to tell us. In 2014 especially, there have been some good examples of where I think we got this right.

Our new guidance on 24/7 emergency veterinary cover – a previously contentious and difficult subject to get right – has been generally well received. This was in no small part due to the comprehensive consultation exercise we undertook in the first part of the year, where we not only called for comments in the normal way, but for the first time also held in-depth ‘Select Committee’- style hearings with many of the key representatives of the vet/VN professions and animal-owning public to identify the real issues and key challenges people were facing.

A 2012 resolution by RCVS Council to remove postnominals from display in the RCVS Register of Members turned out to be an unpopular one. Such was the profession’s unhappiness, in fact, that Council agreed to reverse this decision in June, and then work towards a solution that was acceptable to all. We reported on the new changes in November, which should be rolled out next spring.

Technology provides us with ever-increasing ways to listen to others’ views and gauge opinions, whether that’s through email, online surveys or social media. However, this shouldn’t be at the expense of personal communications – also known as conversations! – whether that’s via formal evidence-gathering sessions like we conducted for the 24/7 review, or, more anecdotally, by getting out and about and meeting people, which I remain committed to doing. I’d like us to continue using all methods at our disposal, whenever we need to consult.

Reform and modernisation

As I said, I’m more of a reformer than a traditionalist, and ensuring that the College is well placed to face the future has been, and will continue to be, a key focus.

Early in 2015 we will have a new Royal Charter – the first in almost half a century – which formally sets out the objects of the College to set, uphold and advance veterinary standards. Perhaps most significantly, the Charter also modernises various regulatory functions, in particular by underpinning the regulation of veterinary nurses and properly recognising them as true professionals in their own right.

In other potentially seismic changes, we are tackling the difficult subject of governance reform, particularly the future function, size and composition of RCVS Council, as well as the structure and membership of our Committees. Council’s discussions in November indicated an appetite for reform, which is hugely encouraging, but there is still more work to do before we reach agreement on what represents the best model for the College to adopt for the future.

Looking ahead

Of course, it’s not just the College’s future that we need to plan for, but that of the whole veterinary profession. To this end, there are now three forward-looking projects underway that should help us do just that.

Together with the British Veterinary Association, we launched the Vet Futures project in November – a major initiative that aims to help the profession prepare for and shape its own future, whilst keeping animal health and welfare at its heart. You can read more about this project on the Vet Futures website, and I would encourage you to join in the monthly debates.

I’m also keen to encourage participation in a trial that could mark a sea change in how the College handles a lot of the concerns raised with us by animal owners. On the basis of what’s good for the consumer can be good for the profession, we’re currently testing alternative dispute resolution as a first step towards settling disputes between users of veterinary services and members of the profession. I would hope the profession recognises the benefits of this trial in helping to resolve long-standing disputes, and would strongly urge members to take part in it, should the opportunity arise.

And then there’s the Mind Matters Initiative, launched in December, which aims to help address the mental health and wellbeing issues that sadly have become such a significant issue for the veterinary profession. A first, very practical, action has been to provide extra funding to the Vet Helpline (0303 040 2551) to enable this confidential support service to be staffed by people, rather than callers having to leave a message and be called back. A vital difference, perhaps, and especially at this time of year.

Thank you

Of course, little, if any, of all these activities would be possible without the tremendous hard work of my colleagues at Belgravia House, and the support and commitment from members of both the RCVS and VN Councils. Their willingness to put the hours in, embrace change, and recognise the benefits that change can bring, has been as inspiring as it’s been encouraging.

My sincere thanks to them and my best wishes to you and yours both this Christmas and for whatever the New Year may bring.

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