Vets may take legal action over new ruling on practice ownership

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Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

Veterinary representatives have criticised a ruling by the Veterinary Council that it won't interfere on the ownership of practices, saying vets won't have clinical autonomy if they are employees of lay corporate bodies and say it may take legal action.

It comes after Veterinary Council of Ireland said, after consultation with stakeholders, that it will not interfere on the ownership of veterinary practices. 

However, Veterinary Ireland - which represents vets - is calling for the Veterinary Council to to uphold the Veterinary Practice Act as amended and thereby ensure the autonomy of veterinary practitioners.

According to the Chief Executive of Veterinary Ireland, Finbarr Murphy, “it is clear from the current law that lay corporate bodies can have no role in the operation of veterinary practices. Employees of lay corporate bodies would not have clinical autonomy in the provision of veterinary services to the public as an employment relationship is inconsistent with autonomy."

He said Veterinary Ireland is seeking an urgent meeting with the Veterinary Council of Ireland to clarify if it intends to carry out its statutory functions in regulating the practice of veterinary medicine and ensuring that lay persons or lay corporate bodies have no role in the operation and control of veterinary practices.

Veterinary Ireland intends to hold the Veterinary Council of Ireland to fulfilling its statutory functions under the existing law, the Veterinary Practice Act 2005 as amended.

In the event that the Council is unable to assure us that it can ensure that veterinary practitioners are fully and autonomously in control of the provision of veterinary services to the public, Veterinary Ireland said it will take all appropriate action up to and including legal action to guarantee this autonomy.

It also called on the Veterinary Council to publish the results of the survey of the public and stakeholders on this critical issue.

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According to the Veterinary Council its legislation did not deal with ownership of veterinary practices and at a meeting last week, the council agreed to update  its Code of Professional Conduct in relation to the matter, but as its Veterinary Practice Act is 'silent' on ownership, it states that, consequently, the council does not involve itself in ownership issues.

However, it said every registrant is bound by the council's Code of Professional Conduct and must not allow themselves to be restricted by contract, arrangement, or partnership from fulfilling their obligations. 

The subject of veterinary practice ownership has been divisive in recent times and while it had been on the radar for a number of years, it was unclear if the council's code could regulate the issue. 

The Veterinary Council initially made an amendment to its code in December 2017, stating that there is no prohibition on a non-registered person or body corporate owning a veterinary practice provided that the practice of veterinary medicine is carried out by a vet registered with them. 

This amendment was put on hold in January 2018 to allow for a period of comprehensive consultation with stakeholders. 

That consultation period has now come to a conclusion, and council president Peadar Ó Scanaill said: "The clinical discretion and independence of the veterinary profession is paramount in all of this.  "The veterinary practitioner is the service provider and they must ensure that no contract or otherwise affects their clinical autonomy or professional judgement in all matters relating to the provision of that service."

The principal function of the Veterinary Council is to regulate the practice of veterinary medicine and veterinary nursing in the Republic of Ireland.   There are 2,894 veterinary practitioners and 962 veterinary nurses registered with the council.  There are 749 veterinary premises registered.

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