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Disciplinary Committee issues severe reprimand to Suffolk veterinary surgeon

RCVS | Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons

5 min read Partner content

A veterinary surgeon from Suffolk has received a severe reprimand and warning as to future conduct after being found guilty of serious professional misconduct by the Disciplinary Committee of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS).

The Disciplinary Committee hearing for Frank Eric Ainsworth, from Lowestoft, took place between Monday 26 and Friday 30 January in respect of his treatment of a dog, Ash, whilst working as a locum veterinary surgeon at Pinebank Veterinary Surgery in Kent.

The charge against Mr Ainsworth was that, on 18 July 2013, he failed to provide adequate care to Ash, whom he had diagnosed with heatstroke, and who had been presented to him by his owner Mr McMahon. In particular, this charge included Mr Ainsworth failing to admit Ash to the practice for urgent treatment, failing to transfer Ash to another practice, failing to suggest euthanasia, and failing to offer Mr McMahon adequate treatment advice.

On presentation to Mr Ainsworth at Pinebank between 7am and 8am, Ash was collapsed and his symptoms included diarrhoea, vomiting, lethargy and a high temperature.

On being told that Ash had heatstroke and was unlikely to survive, Mr McMahon asked Mr Ainsworth whether anything could be done to save him, but was told the practice did not have the necessary treatment facilities. Mr McMahon was advised to take Ash home and use cold running water, ice packs and fans to reduce his temperature.

After Mr McMahon took Ash home and showered him in cold water, his wife telephoned Pinebank to complain. The practice receptionist, Ms Baldock, confirmed to her that there was nothing they could do.

Mrs McMahon asked if her husband could take Ash to Pinebank’s out-of-hours service provider, but was told this was not an option.

Eventually, Mr McMahon took Ash to an alternative practice, Sandhole Vets, where the dog was treated by the practice owner, Mr Johnson. Mr McMahon was told that Ash was unlikely to survive and that, if there was no improvement, he should consider euthanasia. Around 45 minutes after the treatment was started, Ash suffered seizures and died shortly thereafter.

Mr Ainsworth told the Committee that he did not think Pinebank had adequate facilities to treat a dog of Ash’s size for heatstroke and was unaware that it had a hosepipe and watering can. In addition, he did not believe it would be practical and effective to reduce Ash’s temperature with wet towels and considered that the main priority of reducing the temperature would be best done at home.

Furthermore, Mr Ainsworth told the Committee that he intended to make enquiries about referring Ash to another practice once his temperature had been reduced at home. He was about to search the internet for alternative practices when he overheard his colleague’s phone conversation with Mrs McMahon and assumed that Ash had been taken to another practice.

Mr Ainsworth accepted that he did not discuss euthanasia with Mr McMahon, which he said he would have done at a later stage if Ash’s condition did not improve. He also accepted that he made no further enquiries of Ms Baldock and did not telephone Mr McMahon to check if Ash had gone to another practice.

Before reaching its decision the Committee considered, in detail, the testimony of a number of witnesses and experts for both the College and Mr Ainsworth. It rejected Mr Ainsworth’s evidence that his treatment plan was to follow up his investigations into Ash’s case or contact Mr McMahon by telephone. It concluded that, if such a plan had been in place, he would have informed Mr McMahon of his intentions.

The Committee also rejected Mr Ainsworth’s evidence that he had overheard the conversation between Ms Baldock and Mrs McMahon. It said it was not credible that, if he had heard the call, that he would not have made further enquiries.

The Committee found the charges proven. For example, it concluded that Mr Ainsworth should have made further enquiries about the treatment facilities available at the practice for cooling Ash and, if he felt that they were inadequate, should have advised Mr McMahon to take the dog to another practice. It also felt it was inappropriate for Mr Ainsworth to have sent Ash home to the care of his owners while in a critical condition without first seeking the option of referral.

Furthermore, the Committee felt that Mr Ainsworth should have given Mr McMahon the full range of treatment options available, including oxygen and fluids as Ash was in a collapsed state, before he left the practice, as well as discussing euthanasia.

However, the Committee did accept, on the basis of Mr Ainsworth’s clinical records, that he had given advice to Mr McMahon on how Ash could be cooled down at home, although it felt the advice could have been more detailed.

In deciding its sanction for Mr Ainsworth the Committee accepted that his actions were not motivated by indifference to animal welfare but that, on this occasion, there was a serious lapse of judgment.

The Committee also considered that this was a single incident on Mr Ainsworth’s first day at the practice and that he had been confronted with an emergency situation before the practice had opened. It accepted that Mr Ainsworth had an unblemished career over the past 38 years and that he had produced character references from other veterinary surgeons attesting his integrity, skill and conscientiousness.

Judith Webb, chairing the Disciplinary Committee and speaking on its behalf, said: “The Committee has concluded that the sanction proportionate to Mr Ainsworth’s conduct is one of severe reprimand and warning as to his future conduct.”

She added: “The Committee considers that veterinary surgeons are required to be proactive in their duty of care and refer cases when they do not have the ability to deal with cases appropriately.”

The Committee also recommended that Mr Ainsworth should undertake, in the next 12 months, continuing professional development with an emphasis on emergency and critical care and client communication.

The Committee’s full findings and decision are available on the RCVS website (www.rcvs.org.uk/disciplinary).

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