The other evening I was browsing the internet, reading various vet-related things as part of my ongoing attempts to understand the profession as best I can before I join it. Along the way I found a link to an American site named the “Veterinary Abuse Network” (http://vetabusenetwork.com/). As I read further down the page, I became more and more surprised. The website (which cites the First Amendment, a whole host of “disclaimers” and adamant notices that you won’t reproduce any of its content elsewhere) is dedicated to exposing rogue vets who, through carelessness, laziness or implied malicious intent, are harming animals.
I’ll let you make your own decisions about “VAN”. It’s a very emotive page with a lot of case studies and links to sift through. On the one hand, their message is important: if you think your vet is negligent, there need to be avenues through which to report this and seek compensation if there was an adverse effect on your pet. I went back to Google and looked at what you can do if you suspect your vet of negligence. In the UK, this would be dealt with through the civil courts and the Citizens Advice Bureau offer advice on their website. The RCVS state that they usually become involved only in cases of serious professional misconduct. However, don’t suppose that because they aren’t involved in negligence cases the RCVS doesn’t care. Practicing UK vets must be members of the RCVS and made a declaration that “my constant endeavour will be to ensure the health and welfare of animals committed to my care”. The declaration is backed up by detailed codes of conduct.
In the USA, where VAN and its kin are based, vets are regulated by state boards rather than a national body. There also seems to be far greater prevalence of legal action against vets. Although the RCVS codes of conduct do require professional indemnity insurance (for the costs of defending against claims of poor service and any payments which this leads to), it’s hard to find examples of UK vets being taken to court, whereas the American cases are too many to count.
Delving into these examples is difficult: without being either a, a qualified vet b, a qualified lawyer, or c, primarily involved in any of these scenarios, I obviously can’t make any concrete conclusions. I wasn’t there, so I’m reading second hand accounts, and even if I were my opinion as a layperson doesn’t count for much. But going on the decisions made by the American justice there seem to be genuine sad stories out there from a minority of vets who have been negligent. For example, Ms LaHart is a lawyer who takes on veterinary malpractice cases and has written an account of one of these here. The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation ruled that the vet in question had breached the standard of care required of him. Whether his recompense was sufficient is also discussed in the article and on many other websites, but that’s an issue for another day.
But are websites like the Veterinary Abuse Network the answer to suspected or proven negligence? Are they required on top of the actions of the legal system? VAN isn’t alone – you can also peruse at your leisure Vets From Hell, Bo Bo Bear, Bad Vet Daily (now seemingly inactive) or The Toonces Project, to name a few. Some of these websites take the approach of offering “advice” on how to find a trustworthy vet and what to do if you suspect negligence, although the majority are suggestive that this is a severe risk requiring constant vigilance. But many others go all out and tell owners never to leave their pets “alone with a vet” or even that veterinary malpractice is the number one cause of harm to pets.
I’m honestly surprised to see such a backlash against vets, even in another country where I’d accept I know less about the culture and local perceptions. With regards to the websites above, my personal feeling is that they do more harm than good. As I’ve touched upon, there must be avenues for reporting problems and in the UK these seem to function well – at least there’s far less evidence of failure published online. Perhaps the angry websites listed above have sprung up because America is different, with a far greater proportion of rogue vets or a weaker regulatory system; in the UK, the closest equivalent I’ve seen is angry reviews of practices who expected to be paid for their work or upset comments from grieving owners on Facebook. If the system in America or anywhere else in the world is failing pet owners then the system needs to be changed.
However, nothing justifies the campaigns of targeting individual bullying that some of these websites constitute. Veterinary Abuse Network is even suggested by some to have contributed to the suicide of one veterinarian, an outcome which is utterly unacceptable, whatever she may have done in practice.
Issues of animal health and welfare always evoke strong emotional responses, which as an animal lover I can completely understand and sympathise with. If one of my pets died due to negligence – at a vet practice, in a cattery, at a dog groomers’ – I’d want to take action. But I’d like to believe I’d do that through the appropriate channels and that this would provide a fair result. The idea of a violent backlash against an entire profession of, on the whole, caring and dedicated vets, using the internet bandwagon to gain momentum? To me that seems just seems like another cruel and unjustifiable act, well worthy of the old adage “two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Update! Great article here on how vets are not infallible: http://www.drandyroark.com/my-medical-mistake/