May we live in interesting times

While the past few weeks have been very interesting for observers of politics (and great for political journalists!) I imagine that for many veterinary surgeons, veterinary nurses and veterinary practices the excitement may be mixed with a fair bit of uncertainty.

Some 27 per cent of those on the Register of Veterinary Surgeons are registrants from elsewhere in the European Union and they make up around half of all new registrants every year. Meat hygiene and public health are heavily dependent on veterinary surgeons from the EU and I am sure that most veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses will have colleagues from one of the other 27 states. The input of these vets has been invaluable and I would like to both recognise and applaud the positive impact they have had on the veterinary industry and animal welfare.

The Brexit negotiations have yet to begin and while we may want to give absolute certainties to our EU colleagues that they will continue to be able to live and work here unimpeded – it is very much dependent on the agreements the Government makes regarding freedom of movement and the single market. What we can guarantee, however, is two things. First, that their status as Member of the RCVS is sacrosanct and that, as long as the annual fees are paid, any current registrant will be able to remain on the Register of Veterinary Surgeons.

Second that along with the British Veterinary Association, we will be lobbying and working with Whitehall’s Brexit team and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible and to take into account the best interests of the veterinary professions and the public. I would personally like to congratulate Andrea Leadsom on her appointment as Secretary of State and look forward to working with her and her team in the coming months and years.

To this end we have set up a Presidential Taskforce to consider the impact of Brexit and which aims to report its conclusions to Council by March 2017. The Taskforce will have several objectives including:

  • Considering the EU regulations that currently impact on our regulatory responsibilities and make recommendations as to which should be maintained.
  • Looking at the issue of the mutual recognition of veterinary graduates in Europe and make recommendations for how we might deal with applications to join the Register from EU countries post-Brexit.
  • Considering manpower requirements and the implications for new systems of immigration.
  • Understanding how Brexit might impact our current priorities such as governance and the review of Schedule 3.
  • Considering our role as an accreditation organisation and how we can contribute to and influence international affairs outside the EU.
  • Studying the financial impact of Brexit on the College.
Nick Stace's speech at RCVS Day

‘change might not always be comfortable or easy, but we cannot resist it and we need to embrace it..’ (RCVS Day 2016)

Brexit is very much a fact of life now and while some may be disappointed with the outcome of the Referendum, the Taskforce will very much be concerned with scoping out new opportunities and engaging with the way the world is changing. As I said at my recent speech at RCVS Day 2016 in respect of digital disruption – change might not always be comfortable or easy, but we cannot resist it and we need to embrace it, work out what it means and take advantage and control of the situation.

There will be many interesting and tough discussions over the coming months and years – and that will just be in our Presidential Taskforce – but we will continue to keep the profession updated on our progress and how the negotiations may affect EU-qualified veterinary surgeons.

It’s nice when a plan comes together…

The front page of Veterinary Times on 1 June bore the headline ‘Staff back RCVS as great workplace’. This reflected our coming 30th in the top 100 Best Workplace Awards (medium-sized category), run by the Great Place to Work Institute , beating the likes of Coca Cola, Office Angels and General Mills. [See my previous blog for details.]

This was pleasing news in itself, but it was also particularly great to see that headline in print, because one of the exercises carried out back in 2013, as we put together our 2014-16 Strategic Plan, was imagining the headlines we would like to see on the front page of the vet press in three years’ time: the RCVS being a great place to work was one of them.

Clarity of vision

The moral of this story is that when you have a specific goal in mind, and especially when you can articulate and visualise how it might look in print, it has a much greater chance of being met.

This is why our Strategic Plan is full of very specific goals, which were developed out of a process that involved staff, Council and, through the First Rate Regulator Project, the profession and public at large. Some organisations shy away from specific objectives – it’s too easy to be called on them if they are not met. But plans without bite are inevitably left on the shelf to gather dust.

And so I would like to reassure you that, 18 months into our current three-year plan, we have either met, or are on target to meet, the majority of our objectives. The list of actions yet to be tackled is manageable, and one which we may yet add to before 2016 is out.

Complaints progress

But don’t just take my word for it. In addition to the excellent headline in the Veterinary Times, a further testimonial to our hard work could be seen in the Veterinary Record recently (30 May 2015).

Here, veterinary surgeon John Dinsdale was kind enough to praise our Professional Conduct team, specifically highlighting the positive changes that have been made in our concerns-handling process and improvements in communications. This work has been part of our Strategic Plan objective to ‘reduce the time it takes for a complaint to be concluded in a fair and transparent manner’. Mr Dinsdale also commented positively on our trial of an alternative dispute resolution process (ADR), another of our Strategic Plan objectives.

A third piece of recent external validation came in the form of the independent Chair of our Audit and Risk Committee, Liz Butler, giving our current IT projects, which include an upgrade of our database, a new online Practice Standards system and a new IT system for our Professional Conduct work, a clean bill of health.

You can find a full update on our Strategic Plan progress in my CEO Update to Council, available online as part of the June Council paper bundle.

We will soon be starting the process of developing our 2017-19 Strategic Plan, and I will continue to push for sharp, meaningful objectives of the kind that you can sum up in a positive headline. Of course, by being specific you could set yourself up to fail, but it is better to fail to reach a stretching goal than meet a feeble one. Of course, to set yourself stretching goals and meet them is even better!

Finally, following our very successful journey to Edinburgh the other day to hold the first RCVS Council meeting outside London in living memory, here’s a quick video update outlining the main discussions and decisions from the day…

A little speech therapy at RCVS Day

I’ll shortly be battling my way through London’s unforgiving rush hour towards the calm Edwardian surroundings of One Great George Street in Westminster, a fittingly grand venue for us to host our AGM and welcome around 240 guests to our annual awards ceremony.

One Great George Street

A look inside One Great George Street

This will be only my second ‘RCVS Day’, but if it’s as enjoyable as last year, then, together with the invited veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses, their guests, Council members and my colleagues, I have much to look forward to over the next few hours.

I’m conscious that only a fraction of the profession are ever able to attend this important celebratory event, not least as it’s always on a ‘school day’, but I’m pleased to report that we will be producing a short video of the proceedings, as well as plenty of photos and the usual reports and minutes, so there should be ample opportunity to catch up.

I’ll also be making a short speech, which I thought I’d give you a sneak preview of here on my blog (see below). I’ve tried to encapsulate the significant progress we have made, and continue to make, at the College, without going into reams of detail. In my view, the shorter the speech, the better it’s received, so I hope this hits the right note a little later today!

Some of the business of the day will include the presentation of our annual report and financial statements for adoption by members, and a vote on a motion to submit a new Royal Charter to the Privy Council for approval, which would be the first in almost 50 years.

Perhaps most importantly though, RCVS Day provides us with the perfect opportunity to celebrate the very best of the UK veterinary profession – veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses alike – and give due recognition for the many veterinary accomplishments and achievements that so often go unsung.

Rush hour aside, it’s going to be a good day.

 

My speech…

It is a great pleasure to be here once again among the good and the great from the veterinary world.

This is a day for speeches, but this one won’t be long. I just want to update you on what we have achieved and what more there is to do.

Last year I talked about the First Rate Regulator initiative, a massive engagement programme with the profession, public and stakeholders. It led to the strategic plan, a programme of work to improve what we do and how we do it.

Just six months in to the plan I’m delighted to say we have achieved a great deal:

  • A new Charter heading fast towards the Privy Council;
  • Ambitious plans to reduce the time it takes to process complaints;
  • Mid way through an overhaul of our IT infrastructure;
  • In November we will trial of a new consumer complaints service;
  • A new status of ‘Advanced Practitioner’ – with applications opening in September;
  • Next year we will have a new Practice Standards Scheme and the transition to an independent disciplinary function will be complete;
  • And the charity partner of the RCVS, RCVS Knowledge is going great guns – a clear purpose and mandate for EBVM and a fabulous new Chair in Jacqui Molyneux.

A lot to be proud of and real momentum for change and improvement.

In addition we have listened and responded to fair criticism from the profession including a very productive evidence gathering session on 24/7 emergency care, which has resulted in important changes.

I believe listening and responding is a sign of strength and confidence. We do not seek to be popular but to be sensible in how we regulate and respectful in how we carry out our Royal College duties.

I continue to visit practices and other places where vets and VNs work every week and will be delighted to accept invitations from any of you to see the work that you and your teams are doing.

One of the areas that I am most excited about is how we are unleashing the talents of our team at the RCVS. In the last year we have been able to promote from within, we have a greater focus on training and development and our levels of staff engagement are increasing significantly.

It is not self serving to say these things, but critical to the service we provide and the success we can have as a Royal College that regulates.

I see our role as a force for good, contributing to the profession being world leading, supporting some of the best veterinary practitioners in the world, doing everything we can to ensure the public feels properly protected when things go wrong.

We are honest about our strengths and weaknesses and determined to be the best we can be. Thank you for your support in helping us on this journey.

A quick update about Council…

Trying to condense into four minutes a full day’s RCVS Council meeting involving over 40 people who have considered around 1,000 pages of documentation is quite a challenge, to say the least, but I’ve given it my best shot in this brief video update.

If you would like to read more detail about any of the topics I’ve mentioned, please use the links that appear at the bottom of the screen (or you can click on the ones below).

Old friends and new beginnings

I shall be catching up with an old friend over a quick bite to eat later this week, although she won’t thank me for the description, so best keep it to yourself.

Baroness Greengross – septuagenarian independent cross-bench Peer and Commissioner for the Equality and Human Rights Commission – was also one of my first bosses, back when I was not long out of College and working at Age Concern (now Age UK).

As is often the case with first bosses, she made quite an impression on me. “If you can’t bring an organisation around to your way of thinking,” the then Director General used to tell me with typical forthrightness, “start a new organisation!”

It’s certainly bold, and I can sometimes appreciate the sentiment behind it. Don’t worry, I’m not about to do that, yet!

In fact, if anything, I prefer a more collaborative approach. Such has been my main motivation behind the first-rate regulator initiative, which has sought to be as inclusive as possible, gleaning ideas, input and best intentions for the College’s future vision and purpose from across the veterinary and veterinary nursing professions, the animal-owning public and RCVS Council and staff.

The results of this work are rapidly taking shape, with a new draft strategic plan for the College discussed in detail at a full-day Council workshop in September.

Providing a framework for the next three years, the plan recognises the wisdom of John F Kennedy when he said “efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction”. Clarity of purpose and vision alongside a focused plan of action are vital components to any successful organisation, old or new.

John F Kennedy ((Image courtesy White House Press Office (WHPO) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

John F Kennedy: efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction

With this very much in mind, we have identified five main areas around which to develop plans for improvement, namely: our identity, our service, our infrastructure and foundations, relentless delivery on our core functions and how we can develop our leadership role within the profession.

I was delighted with Council’s response to the latest draft, and the remarkable degree of support they have given it to date. Subject to any final changes, I will ask Council to approve the strategic plan at their November meeting, after which work will start on our operational plan for 2014. I look forward to being able to share the full details with you soon.

The October Committee meetings, together with VN Council, got under way this week, and it’s a pleasure to welcome a number of new RCVS and VN Council members to the team. Newly elected VN Council member Amy Robinson attended her first meeting yesterday, along with new lay members Sue Proctor, Dominic Dyer and Alison Carr, and I shall be showing new RCVS Council members Tom Witte and Kit Sturgess around the building and introducing them to colleagues later this week.

The opportunity to have a good look around Belgravia House is not reserved to just Council members, though. We have one of our ‘Meet the RCVS’ days next week and another planned for early next year, so if you would like to come along and find out more about what we do, please drop a line to our Events Manager, Fiona Harcourt on f.harcourt@rcvs.org.uk. You will be very welcome.

In addition, we are holding a special Meet the RCVS day for those thinking of standing for election to RCVS or VN Council on 10 December. Again, contact Fiona for more information.

Similarly welcome, but having to sing rather louder for his supper as a guest speaker at Belgravia House next week, will be David Smith, Human Resources Director at Asda when the company rose from virtual bankruptcy in the late 90s to number two in the UK supermarket league and number one best place to work.

Having lunchtime guest speakers every couple of months is a staff initiative and one I’m all too happy to support. I hope listening to the experiences of someone like David will help provide the encouragement and generate the enthusiasm we are all bound to need when embarking together on the College’s new beginnings.

Around Council in a few minutes – a video update

We’ve had three Council meetings and an RCVS Charitable Trust Board meeting this week – some 15 hours in total – and I, for one, am ready for the weekend! There has been a lot to discuss, though, and some exciting changes are underway.

Council has adopted the recommendations of the First Rate Regulator initiative, there’s good news about retention fees again, the appointments to the new veterinary and veterinary nursing disciplinary committees have been approved, and there has been some very positive discussion about the future of the Practice Standards Scheme.

Here’s a quick round up from me, this time in spoken form…

As ever, if you would like to contact me about anything I’ve mentioned here, or anything else to do with the RCVS, please do drop me a line (nick@rcvs.org.uk).