In 2018, the Veterinary Nurse Disciplinary Committee (“Committee”) of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons directed the Registrar to remove a veterinary nurse from the Register following an inquiry.

This Committee hears allegations of serious professional misconduct against veterinary nurses. The wording of the Veterinary Nurse Conduct and Discipline Rules 2014 describes this level of misconduct as ‘disgraceful conduct in a professional respect’, or that the registrant is unfit to practise because of a criminal conviction. Similar to the Veterinary Council of Ireland’s fitness to practise committee, the Committee hears evidence on oath and witnesses may be cross-examined.

The allegations against the registrant

The registrant in this matter faced five allegations. Three allegations related to criminal convictions surrounding the theft and falsification of prescriptions. The remaining allegations related to the registrant having held herself out as being registered when she was not and that she had failed to declare a conviction when applying to re-join the Register.

At the Inquiry, the Committee was provided with copies of the certificates of convictions relating to the allegations of the theft and falsification of prescriptions. The registrant made full admissions to these allegations. While finding these allegations to be proven, the Committee commented that the registrant’s behaviour failed to maintain public confidence in the veterinary nursing profession.

Dishonest conduct

In considering the allegation of holding herself out as being registered, the Committee took into account the registrant’s submission that she believed that the payment of fees by cheque was sufficient to restore her name to the Register. However, the Committee noted that the registrant had previously restored herself to the Register and, therefore, was aware of the correct process. The Committee found that the registrant was dishonest in this regard and that this allegation was proven.

Criminal conviction

In considering the allegation of failure to declare a conviction when applying to re-join the Register, the Committee considered the registrant’s submission that a Probation Officer informed her that her conviction was spent and did not need to be declared. The Committee was of the view that this was unlikely to be true in circumstances where no evidence from the Probation Service to support this assertion was provided. The Committee found that the registrant was dishonest in this regard and that this allegation was proven.

Falling short of expected standards

The Committee determined that the registrant’s conduct in relation to the theft and falsification of prescription had fallen far short of the standards expected of a registered veterinary nurse. This level of misconduct clearly rendered her unfit to practise. In respect of the remaining allegations, the Committee found that the registrant’s conduct had also fallen far short of the standards expected and amounted to disgraceful conduct in a professional respect.

Committee ruling

In respect of the theft and falsification of prescription allegations, the Committee considered written testimonials on behalf of the registrant but noted these were all unsigned and did not reference the specific allegations. The Committee was conscious that the registrant had no previous disciplinary history, that she offered an apology, and no harm had come to animals or humans by her actions.

The Committee decided that removal from the Register was the appropriate sanction in circumstances where the registrant’s behaviour was repeated, she had used her knowledge as a veterinary nurse to forge prescriptions, and she had breached the trust of her employers by stealing from them.

In relation to the remaining allegations, the Committee took into account the registrant’s personal circumstances and the fact that she offered an apology. The Committee considered the registrant’s use of the title “registered veterinary nurse” to gain employment when she was not registered, and the registrant’s breach of the College’s trust by making a false declaration, as serious aggravating factors. The Committee also decided that removal from the Register was the appropriate sanction.

The Committee accordingly directed that the Registrar remove the registrant’s name from the Register.

Conclusion

This decision from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and Nurses demonstrates a strict attitude to dishonest conduct and the non-disclosure of criminal convictions by a registrant, and it serves as a reminder of the importance professional regulators place on maintaining public confidence in the profession they regulate.

It is noteworthy to observe that the regulation of Veterinary Surgeons and Nurses in the UK operates under a different legislative structure and to a different standard of proof than its Irish equivalent, the Veterinary Council of Ireland. However, while this case holds no binding authority in the Irish jurisdiction, it could be viewed by Irish regulatory bodies as useful guidance in professional disciplinary proceedings involving allegations of dishonesty and criminal conduct.