The Veterinary Council of Ireland (VCI), the statutory body responsible for regulating the veterinary professions, has published a report offering an analysis of complaints received in 2021 against registered veterinary professionals.

The report was undertaken by the VCI due to the high number of complaints received last year which totalled 65, which represented a 71% increase when compared to 2020.

This was the highest number received by the council’s preliminary investigations committee since it was formed 17 years ago.

An increased number of complaints received in 2021 is a trend observed across several health regulators in 2021 and the council believes this may be related to an increased focus on healthcare professionals alongside several periods of lockdowns as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Complaints to veterinary council

The VCI said that this analysis was carried out to offer some detail on the complaints received and the grounds for those complaints, in an effort to glean some learnings given the increased level of complaints received.

38 of the complaints received by the VCI in 2021 were regarding the treatment of dogs, 10 were regarding cats, four were regarding horses and one was regarding cattle.

As detailed in the VCI annual reports, the majority of complaints received every year relate to companion animals, with a minority of complaints relating to large animal treatment and care.

In 2021, complaints received were concerning:

  • Inadequate veterinary care and treatment (35);
  • Five related to registrants’ communication with clients;
  • Five related to failure to provide evidence of professional indemnity insurance;
  • Four were regarding out of hours service;
  • Four were regarding animal welfare;
  • Remaining nine complaints related to employment matters – permitting the practice of veterinary medicine by unregistered persons, prescribing practices, certifications, pre-purchase examinations and failure to declare a conviction.

All complaints received are considered and determined by the VCI’s preliminary investigation committee, which comprises veterinary practitioner and non-veterinary practitioner members who objectively consider the subject of the complaint.

Fitness to Practice

Of the complaints received in 2021, 10 were determined to warrant an inquiry before the council’s Fitness to Practice Committee, which was the highest figure ever referred to the committee in a single year.

The VCI Fitness to Practice Committee conducts oral inquiries or hearings in public to consider allegations of professional misconduct, referred to as Fitness to Practice Inquiries.

Findings of professional misconduct, give rise to sanctions imposed by the Veterinary Council of Ireland. Such disciplinary structures are in place to protect the high standards of veterinary medicine and nursing in Ireland and uphold the reputation of the professions in society.

The spike in complaints in 2021 was likely due to a number of factors, including increased companion animal ownership alongside altered arrangements in veterinary practices for interaction with clients in the context of Covid-19 health and safety measures broadly introduced in 2020.

Source: VCI

Niamh Muldoon, CEO and registrar of the Veterinary Council of Ireland, said: “Following our analysis of the complaints received in 2021, we noted that the highest number of complaints related to areas such as standards of care and communication.

“The veterinary council’s updated Codes of Professional Conduct, which were launched in January, support and inform veterinary professionals’ awareness in these areas.

“We will continue to regulate the veterinary sector ensuring the delivery of high standards and trust in veterinary care in Ireland,” she added.

Currently, the number of complaints received by the veterinary council’s Preliminary Investigations Committee in 2022, stands at 24 as at the end of August 2022.