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 nick@rcvs.org.uk.

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

A turnout for the books

We started last week with some very encouraging news. Turnouts in the RCVS Council and VN Council elections were both significantly up on last year (25% and 67% respectively) and, in the case of VN Council, the highest on record! I’m delighted with these results because they indicate increasing levels of engagement with the profession.

Interestingly, all members on both Councils who were standing again were re-elected, and in both cases, the highest number of votes went to younger and ‘unknown’ candidates. I think this speaks well for endorsing the direction in which we are heading, as well as embracing the need for a continual renewal. If you voted, thank you, if you didn’t, we will try to do more to convince you that it’s worth your while.

Whilst Electoral Reform Services were counting up the votes, the Senior Team spent Monday at the Museum of Brands in Notting Hill for a full-day meeting to focus on our organisational purpose and to begin to think about our goals and targets over the next three years. It proved an inspiring setting although, sadly, the chocolate exhibits were not for consumption.

Last Wednesday we met with the BVA Officers and discussed everything from the RCVS Charitable Trust and Evidence-Based Veterinary Medicine, to the First Rate Regulator initiative and possible changes to the Practice Standards Scheme.

As you can see from the photo below, the BVA President Elect, Robin Hargreaves, has an interesting way of persuading the RCVS President to see his point of view – he obviously doesn’t know that Jacqui is a dab hand with a knife!

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Robin Hargreaves persuades Jacqui Molyneux to come round to his way of thinking

We’re now approaching the end of a very full-on week of Committee meetings – always a challenge for even the most passionate of bureaucrats! First up was the Audit & Risk Committee last Wednesday and three-and-a-half hours of looking at year-end accounts for last year (hearing that must make you quite envious of my job!).

Last Friday we had the Legislative Working Party with plenty of discussion around how we should change our Charter. There were some obscure, but very entertaining, discussions around the Crimean War and the RCVS involvement in allowing more horses to go into battle!

Then, this last week, we’ve had the quadruple whammy of VN Council, Education Policy & Specialisation Committee, Communication & Public Affairs Board and Planning & Resources Committee. There have been no major decisions to make this time around.

This is the last round of Committees under the old regime, with the new Operational Board coming into being in July, with smaller Committees and clearer lines of decision-making.