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.

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.

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.

A month of celebration, by George!

A year or so on from one of the most spectacular series of national celebrations this country has ever experienced – in the shape of the Diamond Jubilee and London 2012 – and it seems we have all developed rather a taste for celebrating success.

First, the Lions maul the Aussies (and having lived and worked in Australia, I shall never tire of saying that) then, Murray makes mincemeat of the Wimbledon opposition; the England cricket team are confidently carrying on where the Lions left off, Froome finishes first in France and now, while we continue to bask in all this sporting glory and uncharacteristic sunshine, our future King (by George!) is delivered safe and well. Amidst all this, I’m pleased to report that the veterinary world seems determined not to miss out on achieving its own successes, and has itself had much to celebrate over the last few weeks.

For us at least, it all kicked off with RCVS Day on 5 July – our annual general meeting and awards ceremony which we held at the Royal College of Physicians in London. It being my first, I wasn’t too sure what to expect, but what a thoroughly enjoyable and impressive day it turned out to be, surrounded by the good and the great of the veterinary and veterinary nursing professions, together with their friends and family.

You might not need me to tell you this, but the College doesn’t hand out its awards lightly. The achievements being recognised were, for me at least, real eye-openers into the breadth and depth of expertise amongst those in, and associated with, the profession; be they for the large animal vet who first identified BSE in cattle ‘simply’ through careful observation in practice, or the impressive number of VNs gaining their diplomas in advanced veterinary nursing, including three in the equine field for the very first time.

As I said on the day, in my first nine months as CEO I have met many members of the veterinary professions up and down the country, and have found them to be extraordinarily welcoming. It really is a privilege to be leading the RCVS at this time, and I take great pleasure in seeing vet and VN accomplishments being recognised and honoured in this way. My sincere congratulations to all of our award holders!

Pictures from RCVS Day

A few pictures from RCVS Day (click image to view more on Flickr)

Over the ensuing weeks, I switched from commending eminent vets for years of hard work and lifetime achievements to congratulating the very newest MsRCVS just embarking on their professional careers as veterinary surgeons. I was lucky enough to be representing the College at the graduation ceremonies of the Royal Veterinary College and Liverpool vet school (but for a late taxi, horrendous traffic and a missed flight, I would have been at Glasgow vet school, too) and was thrilled to witness so many young people on the cusp of their professional lives. A UK veterinary degree represents five/six years of hard, unrelenting graft (the vet schools and the RCVS rightly strive to ensure that it is just that!) and all our new veterinary surgeons can be immensely and justifiably proud of themselves.

Of course, no period of celebration can be fully appreciated without some day-to-day toil to put it all into perspective, and our work agenda has continued apace at Belgravia House.

We had a seven-hour ‘beauty parade’ of auditors this last week, which was quite the test of endurance for our Audit & Risk Committee, my colleagues and me! A regular review and renewal of auditors is an essential discipline for any organisation that wants to maintain best financial practice, a concept I was interested to note has been recently promoted by the Competition Commission.

We’ve also now had a first report back from our IT consultant summarising the responses we’ve received to our invitation to tender for our new customer relationship database. Of the nine companies invited, seven have submitted replies, which is an excellent response. I will keep you posted on developments as we take forward this eye-wateringly complex project.

Finally, as I mentioned in my previous post (‘Avoiding tunnel vision’), our new Operational Board is meeting for the first time this week. We shall be spending two days in each other’s company at the recently renamed Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester, where I will be steering the Board through the latest draft of our strategic plan before it goes to Council in September. You can find out more about the Operational Board, and who’s on it, via the College website.

And there I shall leave things for a fortnight or so, as I have a couple of weeks’ holiday coming up, camping with my young family in France. At least, if you can call 14 days of unforgivingly hard floors, very early mornings and scrambled egg saucepans a holiday… Perhaps that auditor meeting wasn’t so arduous after all.

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).

Out and about, out of hours

Staring down at a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with acute chocolate poisoning at 11.30pm in Edinburgh the other night, I felt like I was really experiencing the sharp end of veterinary practice.

I’d been invited to witness the delights and challenges of out-of-hours emergency veterinary work by RCVS Council Member Amanda Boag, and spent the evening criss-crossing the south of Scotland visiting practices in Glasgow and Edinburgh to see what sort of cases came in. Fortunately, Mischa was treated quickly, and was ultimately none the worse for her misadventure, despite having consumed ten times the toxic level of chocolate! The commitment of the hardworking vets and vet nurses who I met really was quite extraordinary.

Whilst north of the border, I also took the opportunity to visit the Dick Vet (for the uninitiated, as I was, this is Edinburgh University’s vet school, founded by William Dick in 1823) and now have an even better insight into the amazing facilities available to undergraduates there, and the education they receive.

The necessary financing for such facilities is possible due in no small part to the sterling efforts of the School’s first head of finance, Mary Dick (William’s elder sister), which continues to translate into significant funds: £100m over the last five years and £150m over the next ten, to be precise. You’d think she might look slightly happier about her accomplishments…

Mary Dick

Mary Dick – financing a vet school is no laughing matter

I had an excellent meeting with Head of School, David Argyle, too. Amongst other things, we discussed the one health initiative (the vets and medics in Edinburgh work very closely together), the need for veterinary leadership both nationally and globally and his  inspirational views on what he calls the ‘need for a renaissance within the vet profession’. My thanks to David for his valuable time.

Staying north, I was then joined by my fellow Officers and colleagues for our Regional Question Time meeting in Durham. This turned out to be a successful evening with over 40 delegates coming armed with plenty of lively questions to keep us alert for nearly three hours! We discussed everything from out-of-hours cover (I’m now an expert, you understand) to the first-rate regulator initiative, from day-one competencies of new graduates to the struggles of being a small practice in tough economic times.

Like I said in Durham, meetings like this are a great way to meet members of the veterinary team, hear their views and try to answer their questions. It’s not always possible to get out and about, though, so please feel free to contact me at any time either via this blog or by email (nick@rcvs.org.uk). Whilst I might not always agree, I will always listen!

Of course, while I was out on the road, work continued apace back at the ranch with the team  busy writing to all the MPs picked in the Private Members Ballot to encourage them to support our call for new legislation to protect the title ‘veterinary nurse’, and to introduce an effective VN regulatory system.

Like I said at the time, there is widespread support amongst the public and profession for such legislation, and the nation’s animals and owners deserve better than the current situation. We have had a Bill drafted by leading Counsel and are prepared to offer significant support to any MP willing to pick up this worthy cause.

The last leg of my recent travels has actually involved a few rare days’ holiday – the first I have taken since taking up the CEO post back in September and a very welcome break! With a very important Council meeting coming up this week, together with some intensive workshops on shaping the future of the College and the Practice Standards Scheme, its good to return to office feeling refreshed and ready to face the next challenge!

Climbing down from our ‘Belgrivory Tower’

A common complaint levelled at the RCVS is that we all sit here in London, high up in our ‘Belgrivory Tower’, and never venture anywhere near normal veterinary practice to get our hands dirty and see what ‘real vetting’ is all about.

Whether or not this has been true in the past, I’ve been keen from day one in the CEO hot seat to get out and about, and have been making concerted efforts, when time permits, to visit veterinary practices, vet schools, VN Colleges and other veterinary work places up and down the country to listen to the views and concerns of the people who work there.

Last week, for instance, I spent a fascinating day visiting three practices in Harrogate and my thanks to Leigh-Anne Brown, Maurice Kelly and Bob Partridge MsRCVS for sparing me their valuable time. I also spent a few hours in Consett with my boss, President Jacqui Molyneux, watching her perform keyhole surgery. I was really pleased to witness an actual operation on an actual animal, as it’s surprising how few animals I get to see on my practice visits! Jacqui’s operating skills were very impressive; I say that genuinely and not just because I now know she’s a dab hand with a knife. (And I didn’t faint, in case you were wondering…)

Jacqui Molyneux

Watching a Presidential operation

In other news…

Our First Rate Regulator initiative continues apace, and I would like to record here my thanks again to the 5,000 or so veterinary surgeons, veterinary nurses and practice managers who took the trouble to respond  our survey, as well as all the members of the public, RCVS Council and staff, plus additional stakeholders who also shared their views with us.

Our external consultants have since analysed this mountain of feedback and presented us with a series of formal recommendations to consider. At a meeting last Monday, RCVS Officers lent their support to these recommendations, which will now be presented to RCVS Council in June.  I hope that a workshop approach will allow all Council members to really get their teeth into the issues.

We held our first ever RCVS virtual Question Time last Wednesday evening and, technical challenges notwithstanding, it was well received. We asked the 80 people listening in to tell us whether they thought it was worthwhile and we had an extraordinary 100 per cent approval rating! Don’t worry if you missed it, the discussions were recorded, and should be available via The Webinar Vet soon.

On Friday, I headed over to WhiteCity with our new Head of Registration and Customer Experience Manager, Nicola South, to talk to what’s left of the BBC on that site about how they handle complaints, and how they interact with the public as licence fee payers and audiences to their programmes. Although on the surface a very different organisation to the RCVS, I often find observing how others do things can provide a very useful opportunity to learn.

Coming up this week, we have a Senior Team away day on Monday, where we will be starting the process of putting together a strategic plan for the next three years. I’ll be asking all staff for their input in June, and our new Operational Board in July, before then presenting draft proposals for Council to consider in September.

We also have a joint Officers meeting with the BVA, an Audit and Risk Committee meeting and our Legislation Working Party will be considering our Charter activities. Jacqui and Registrar Gordon Hockey will be heading to Cambridge to talk to their vet students about the role of the RCVS, plus giving them the opportunity to play Disciplinary Committee member through a fictitious case, and I shall need to don my best whistle-and-flute, for a NOAH black-tie event to round off the week.

That’s it for this week, and the first of what I hope will become a regular blog to help shed a little more light on my day-to-day activities both in, and, whenever I get chance, away from, the office.