If a vet or nurse fails to perform their duties in a number of ways, such as failing to diagnose or providing a misdiagnosis, failing to administer proper treatment, failing to keep up-to-date with the latest techniques or performing a poor examination, a complaint may follow – how should a practice deal with this?
Veterinary practices and their surgeons are covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA), which protects your clients’ rights and requires you to abide by what you said or wrote to a client when they rely on it.
Complaints are a part of life and while they are disappointing for the staff involved, and potentially isolating and alarming, they can also offer a chance to improve. It is important that individuals try not to take complaints personally and that the issues are dealt with constructively.
Start by breaking the complaint down – there may be a regulatory issue and a consumer issue.
A typical ‘regulatory’ client complaint may look like this:
- A claimant complains to the practice that their vet failed to act with reasonable care and skill.
- They might also say the vet failed to meet the professional standards of reasonable care and skill that would be expected from a vet, or that there was professional misconduct.
A typical ‘consumer’ based complaint could focus on the price for the service, especially if it was not agreed beforehand. The service should be provided for a reasonable price and within a reasonable timescale unless a specific timescale has been agreed.
Dealing with a complaint
The first step to defending such claims is to ensure and show that you adhere to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) professional code of conduct. This is the yardstick against which you will be judged.
Next, put yourself in the position of the complainant – this may also help to prevent further complaints. Consider the requirements to be open and honest, supply clients with costs information and ensure that you have informed consent ahead of any treatment.
Is mediation an option?
Yes – and often a very effective way to resolve disputes. It usually involves talking to and negotiating with all parties to find a common outcome that enables resolution. The mediator won’t judge or to take side but rather will assist and facilitate; the resolution could take the form of a refund and simply an acknowledgement and apology.
The RCVS will deal with the most serious concerns – those that affect fitness to practise and the right to work as a veterinary surgeon or veterinary nurse, where behaviour has fallen far short of what is expected. Any concern that falls outside the RCVS’ remit may be considered for mediation.
If mediation is not possible, the RCVS can discipline you if (after an investigation) they find in favour of the complainant. But they cannot compensate the complainant, so the practice must have adequate insurance.
Do contact your insurer as soon as a complaint is received and follow their advice on what to do next.