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Life has changed over the past 60 years. Veterinary care has too.

Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons

4 min read Partner content

The veterinary professions are currently governed by legislation that is nearly 60 years old and no longer fit for purpose. In this article Melissa Donald, President of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the regulator of the veterinary professions, writes about the College’s campaign for fresh legislation that will help govern the profession now and into the future.

From farm to fork, to treating our much-loved animal companions, veterinary professionals are essential to protecting animal health & welfare, protecting the public from zoonotic diseases and securing our food chain. Life has changed a great deal since 1966 and so have the veterinary professions, so surely it can’t be right that the legislation underpinning such a crucial profession dates from the first Harold Wilson premiership and no longer reflects how us vets work today.

At the RCVS we are working to remedy this by campaigning for a new Act. In support of this campaign, we launched a microsite in September 2022 explaining the urgent need to replace the 1966 Veterinary Surgeons Act. This campaign has been in the making for a while and is supported by many partners in the veterinary sector who understand that it is imperative we get legislation that works for us in the here and now, and for many decades to come. We have developed a series of proposals to ensure that the legislation underpinning the entire vet-led team is modern, principles-based and future-proofed. The recommendations that have recently been sent to Defra, as the government department responsible for veterinary services, and were informed by the findings of a four-year root-and-branch review we conducted into the existing legislation, followed by a public consultation which hundreds of vets, vet nurses and other stakeholders responded to.

What is included in the RCVS proposals for new legislation?

Overall, the aim of our proposals is to seek legislation that prioritises animal health & welfare, public health and public trust. This can be achieved by ensuring that all professionals treating our family pets or working to maintain the health of large animals, such as equines or livestock as well as those working in critical areas like food safety and public health, are regulated and work to standards set by the RCVS as a trusted regulator. This would also involve allied professionals, such as veterinary technicians, musculoskeletal therapists and equine dental technicians, who are currently unregulated, under the RCVS regulatory umbrella.

New legislation is necessary so that we can regulate the whole vet-led team, allowing for greater evidence-led flexibility over what can be delegated to these allied professionals. This refreshed approach will hopefully free up veterinary surgeons’ time by allowing allied professionals to carry out certain tasks under the instruction of the vet.

In addition, new legislation may help to address the workforce shortages that are currently affecting the veterinary professions, achieved by offering careers with more versatility and diversity through renewed delegation powers as discussed above. This means that public can confidently trust that whoever is taking care of their animals will do so to standards set by a competent regulator acting in the best interests of animal health and welfare and public health.

Overall, the aim of our proposals is to seek legislation that prioritises animal health & welfare, public health and public trust

This call for regulation is echoed by allied professionals stating that regulation will enhance their professions. Equine dental technician, Jake Paterson states that “The proposed legislative reform where the RCVS will regulate each subdivision creates a veterinary team that will be accountable for their actions. It will protect the titles of allied professionals to provide the much-needed clarity to the public and will offer a solution to the current confusion in legislation due to unregulated practitioners.”

We also hope that any new legislation will reflect modern regulatory best practice through a forward-looking disciplinary process that assesses whether individual vets and veterinary nurses are fit to practice. With new legislation we will be a modern, fair and efficient regulator, fostering a professional environment that is inclusive and attractive to those wishing to pursue a veterinary or veterinary nursing career.

Parliamentary event

Back in October, the RCVS hosted MPs, Peers and veterinary stakeholders in the Cholmondeley Room and Terrace at the House of Lords to showcase the new microsite and to discuss the need to replace the Veterinary Surgeons Act.

The event, sponsored by Professor the Lord Trees, the only vet currently sitting in the House of Lords and a former President of the RCVS, focused on how the profession has changed since the 1966 legislation was enacted. A key theme of the day was the importance of the vet-led team and there was a real sense of a joined-up approach by the sector who realise the urgency of legislation that reflects how the professions actually work.

A new Veterinary Surgeons Act is essential, for more information on the campaign visit the dedicated RCVS Life Has Changed campaign website where you can learn how to get involved and support our cause.

We’re very happy to meet Ministers, MPs, Peers and their staff to discuss our aims and ambitions further, if you are interested, please email me on to discuss further.

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