The RCVS has launched a consultation about how the profession should, in the future, be governed.

The consultation is open to veterinary surgeons, nurses, students, and the public.

One of the main - and most controversial - proposals in the consultation, which was unveiled by RCVS President Sue Patterson at BVA Live last week, is that the elected councils would be replaced by an independent merit-and-skills appointment-based system. 

Sue discussed the main benefits of an appointment-based system at BVA Live: 

  • An appointment-based system is more accessible - anyone can apply and the process is less daunting and potentially off-putting than the 'hell' of elections by social media, which are causing the College to 'miss out on so much talent.'
  • People are currently elected to Council on a bit of a false premise: that with their opinion-based manifestos, they are able to represent the electorate. They are not. They are there to be representative of the profession.
  • An appointment based system allows the College to select a more representative group on Council, including people from all over the UK and people who are representative of different areas of the profession, such as new graduates, production animal vets and people from the public health centre.
  • Appointed candidates, selected for their skills and experience, should be more able to hit the ground running when they start on Council, where currently it can take time to get new Council members up to speed.

Other proposed changes include:

  • to have parity or near parity of laypeople and members of the profession on Council, to assure the public that the RCVS, as the regulator, is not ‘setting and marking its own homework’.
  • to build in flexibility to allow veterinary paraprofessionals which have been identified as requiring regulation by the RCVS, such as veterinary technicians, musculoskeletal therapists, clinical animal behaviourists and equine dental technicians and cattle foot trimmers to be members of RCVS Council.
  • to separate the Chair of RCVS Council from the presidency, so that the Chair of Council, also selected for their skills and ability, would remain in post for longer than the presidential term, offering greater continuity.
  • to remove Veterinary Schools Council appointees and instead ensure there is an appropriate level of educationalist expertise on the RCVS Education Committee and on RCVS Council via the independent appointment process.
  • to reduce the size of VN Council from 14 to 12 members in line with regulatory norms and to ensure that there is a focus on strategy and governance while maintaining a broad range of knowledge and experience.  

The good governance proposals are part of the College’s overall legislative reform agenda in which it is seeking to replace the 1966 Veterinary Surgeons Act with new and more modern, flexible and forward-looking legislation, which would expand the regulatory remit of the College to encompass veterinary practice premises and paraprofessionals, while empowering veterinary nurses and creating a new fitness to practise system.

Sue said: “The current governance structure of the RCVS is set by the VSA and updating our governance systems is a vital prerequisite to getting new primary legislation, as the outdated and out-of-step nature of our current arrangements will be clear to see.

“Governance may not be the most exciting topic, but it is the foundation on which all other aspects of the College’s work rests.

"As a professional regulator with animal health and welfare at our heart, the RCVS has a duty to ensure that our arrangements best serve the public on whose behalf we are entrusted to regulate and uphold veterinary standards, while still maintaining veterinary input in all our decision-making processes.

“We believe these good governance proposals help us meet this mission, ensuring that we are bringing our governance in line with regulatory norms, while still recognising our unique role as a dual regulator and royal college.

"The proposals would also help us get the best talent with the right skillsets and experience to serve on RCVS Council, VN Council and our committees, drawing on both laypeople and the broad sweep of the veterinary professions.

“We acknowledge that there has been some disquiet over the fact that, under these proposals, we would no longer be holding the annual elections to either RCVS Council or VN Council.

"However, we believe that an independent, fair and skills-based appointment process would be a superior way of selecting the membership of RCVS Council and VN Council than the elections which, unfortunately, the vast majority of the veterinary professions do not currently engage in, and which risk creating the impression that the RCVS is some sort of representative organisation.

“We look forward to hearing the considered views of the professions and public regarding our good governance proposals and will carefully review the feedback we receive.”

Belinda Andrews-Jones RVN, current Chair of VN Council, added: “In many ways VN Council is ahead of the curve in terms of governance reform with a smaller number of members and two independently-appointed veterinary nurse members – of which I am one – as well as appointed lay members.

“I can personally vouch for the robust nature of the application and independent appointment process for VN Council and how it took into account what I had to offer to the role in terms of my skills, my knowledge and my experience.

“I would like to thank my fellow members of VN Council, including my elected peers, for their positive engagement with the good governance proposals and their recognition that these reforms aren’t about reducing scrutiny of the College or the amount of challenge to its decisions, but about improving outcomes for the public, their animals and the professions at large.”

The good governance recommendations have been drawn up on the basis of the Law Commission’s 2014 Report ‘Regulation of Health and Social Care Professionals’, the recommendations from which were adopted by the UK government as being the ‘regulatory norm’.

The College says any future appointment processes for RCVS Council and VN Council would also be based on the Professional Standards Authority’s appointment principles of merit, fairness, transparency and openness and having a process that inspires confidence.

The deadline for completing the consultation is Monday 22 July 2024. 

The College will also be presenting the proposals at a Zoom webinar called being chaired by Sue between 7pm and 8pm tomorrow evening, Tuesday 11 June 2024: 

PS: Whilst you're here, take a moment to see our latest job opportunities for vet nurses.