The RCVS Disciplinary Committee has suspended Dr Jacqueline Bohnen, a South African veterinary surgeon who had been working in the County of Moray, Scotland, for being misleading and dishonest in relation to her treatment of a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel in March 2017.

Dr Bohnen faced two charges. The first was that in March 2017, she failed to attend to Belle, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, in order to provide appropriate and adequate care including: assisting Belle with urination, monitoring her with a view to considering alternative treatment options, and monitoring her with a view to providing her owners with an update on her condition.

The second charge was that Dr Bohnen later claimed dishonestly that she had attended to the animal, both to the owners, in clinical records hospital records, in a note provided to colleagues and during internal disciplinary proceedings held at her practice.

At the outset of the hearing the Committee considered an application from Dr Bohnen for the hearing to be postponed as she was now based in her home country of South Africa, and said she could not apply for a visa to return to the UK until later in the year and internet access in her location was poor.

However, the Committee found that the RCVS had properly served the notice of inquiry to Dr Bohnen in accordance with the current rules, that she had had sufficient time and opportunity to apply for a visa since receiving the notice and that, in any case, she could remotely ‘attend’ the hearing via Skype or telephone if necessary by travelling to somewhere that did have adequate internet connectivity, and so it refused the application. 

The Disciplinary Committee then considered the facts of the case and heard evidence from the owners of Belle, the clinical director of the practice that Dr Bohnen worked in at the relevant time and a veterinary nurse, who was a student doing her training at the practice during the time of the events in question.

Having considered all of the evidence, the Committee dismissed the parts of the first charge relating to considering alternative treatment options and updating the owners in relation to Belle’s condition. They did, however, find the charge proven in relation to Dr Bohnen failing to assist Belle with urination.

The Committee found all aspects of the second charge proven in its entirety after Dr Bohnen admitted in advance of the hearing, that her representations were false and misleading.

The Committee then went on to consider whether the second charge and the aspects of the first charge that were found proven amounted to serious professional misconduct both individually and cumulatively.

The Committee considered that Dr Bohnen’s conduct in failing to assist Belle with urination, whilst falling below the standard to be expected of a reasonably competent veterinary surgeon, did not amount to serious professional misconduct. 

The Committee did however find that Dr Bohnen’s conduct with regards to the second charge constituted serious professional misconduct.

Professor Alistair Barr, chairing the Committee and speaking on its behalf, said: "The Committee considers that the respondent’s dishonesty was the prime aggravating factor in this case. Although overall it could be regarded as a single incident, the Committee has found that it involved the fabrication of a number of notes and clinical records in the immediate aftermath of the death of the dog, but, thereafter, the respondent continued to deny the falsity of the fabricated records that she had created up to and until the conclusion of her interview by the practice on 30 March 2017. 

"During that time, the respondent had contacted the alarm company responsible for the security of the premises of the practice, to enquire whether the security system would record the times of the alarm being switched on and off. This indicated that the respondent’s dishonesty continued over a significant period of time, and that her persistence in sticking to her story became premeditated. In other words, the respondent’s conduct over this time indicated a clear attempt to deceive."

Regarding the sanction for Dr Bohnen, the Committee considered that the principle aggravating factors in the case were serious dishonesty towards both her colleagues and the owners of the dog and involved clear breaches of the Code of Professional Conduct. By way of mitigation, the Committee noted that Dr Bohnen is of previous good character with no other professional findings against her and that she had demonstrated some insight into her behaviour and had admitted being dishonest and misleading prior to the hearing. 

Summing up, Professor Barr said: "Because of the seriousness of this case, the Committee did not consider that it was appropriate to postpone judgement, take no further action, or to administer a reprimand and warning as to future conduct. The Committee considered that the respondent’s conduct, involving significant and admitted dishonesty over a period of time, required a significant penalty, in order to protect the welfare of animals and to serve the public interest.

"Accordingly, the Committee has decided to direct that the respondent’s registration be suspended for a period of nine months."

Dr Bohnen has 28 days from being informed of the Committee’s decision to lodge an appeal with the Privy Council.

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