One of our readers had a reply back from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons today. I’ve published it on full here along with my own commentary underneath. It’s not a disinteresting letter and its actually quite revealing when you read between the lines and think a bit deeper.
Without further ado then…
Thank you for your email…
“Generally, in terms of professional conduct, veterinary surgeons or veterinary nurses should not disclose to any third party any information about a client or their animal either given by the client, or revealed by clinical examination or by post-mortem examination. This duty also extends to support staff.”
Well let me cut right in here straight away. Precisely how are the public meant to raise concerns in a case like ‘Baby’ if in fact the only people permitted to have full access to the details are the very people convicted of the torture? Are we relying on only the direct client to raise a complaint? In this case it would be absurd – the clients are the guilty party! They aren’t going to write to the RCVS and raise concerns. Anyway, what does “generally” actually mean. Either they can or they cannot. And with all due respect, if they cannot then how can a politician know that the dog was offered a scan?
“Occasionally, a veterinary surgeon may be presented with an injured animal whose clinical signs cannot be attributed to the history provided by the client and they may suspect non-accidental injury.”
That’s good. ‘Occasionally’. Just not on this occasion for some yet to be explained reason. I wonder if the RCVS consider this to fit suspicion of non-accidental injury.
“In such cases, the veterinary surgeon may consider whether the circumstances are sufficiently serious to justify disclosing information without the consent of a client to the authorities such as the Police.”
Excellent. Well this was definitely such a case. So did she consider it? If she did not, why not? If she did, why did she not follow that up and disclose it to the police?
“However, veterinary surgeons, in the same way as other members of the public, are not legally obliged to report such matters to the authorities.”
Hmm. I have SERIOUS doubts over this. Pretty sure I would be legally obligated to report cruelty if I suspected it. Pretty sure a vet is obligated to report a suspected crime. Besides, what about a moral, ethical and professional duty?
Anyway, this is from their own site…
‘The duty of confidentiality is important but it is not absolute and information can be disclosed in certain circumstances, for example where the client’s consent has been given, where disclosure can be justified by animal welfare concerns or the wider public interest, or where disclosure is required by law.’
Disclosing to the authorities
‘In circumstances where the client has not given permission for disclosure and the veterinary surgeon or veterinary nurse considers that animal welfare or the public interest is compromised, client confidentiality may be breached and appropriate information reported to the relevant authorities. Some examples may include situations where an animal shows signs of abuse or is at real and immediate risk of abuse or where the information is likely to help in the prevention, detection or prosecution of a crime.’
“We cannot comment specifically on the situation you are referring to as we do not have all of the facts. However, as we mentioned, veterinary surgeons are not legally required to make reports to the authorities although they may choose to do so in certain situations and provided there are justifiable reasons for the disclosure.”
Can’t they find “all the facts” then? What facts do they need that are missing and who can get those facts? How about the vet? Oh, wait, they aren’t allowed to disclose – except when they are. Hands up who thinks what they watched constitutes justifiable reasons for disclosure? Mine is already up.
“Additionally, veterinary surgeons may be presented with an animal much later after the event / incident occurred and therefore it may be that the clinical picture could be different when the animal is taken to the veterinary practice.”
Professional Conduct Department
Yes. Approximately 12 weeks later by which time is is patently obvious that her condition would only be much worse. Did the vet question the client? Did she raise the alarm? Did she err on the side of caution? I’d like to know HOW the “clinical picture” could be different.