Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons v MacLeod

JurisdictionUK Non-devolved
CourtPrivy Council
JudgeLord Carswell
Judgment Date24 July 2006
Neutral Citation[2006] UKPC 39
Docket NumberAppeal No 88 of 2005
Date24 July 2006

[2006] UKPC 39

Privy Council

Present at the hearing:-

Lord Hope of Craighead

Baroness Hale of Richmond

Lord Carswell

Appeal No 88 of 2005
Susie Macleod
Appellant
and
The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons
Respondent

[Delivered by Lord Carswell]

1

The appellant Mrs Susie Macleod is an experienced veterinary surgeon, who carries on a small animal veterinary practice known as the A120 Veterinary Centre in Little Hadham, Hertfordshire, in which she works part-time. There are several other veterinary surgeons and a number of listed veterinary nurses and other staff in that practice. In 2004 she set up a separate clinic in Sawbridgeworth, some seven miles away, entitled the Health4Pets clinic. This establishment was staffed wholly by veterinary nurses, with no resident veterinary surgeon on the premises, although there was regular communication by telephone with the main practice and webcam pictures could be transmitted between the premises. The clinic was advertised as offering primary and booster vaccinations, worming and flea treatments and health checks, including dental and weight checks, for clients' pets. It was not in dispute that its main function was to furnish facilities for the vaccination of small animals by veterinary nurses at considerably lower cost than the charges made by practices where veterinary surgeons carried out vaccinations. In the course of their work at the Health4Pets clinic veterinary nurses administered vaccinations to small animals and furnished medicines for their treatment. The appellant was charged with disgraceful conduct in a professional respect in that she had allowed and/or authorised this to be done. The Disciplinary Committee of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons ("the College") held an inquiry into the charges and found her guilty of disgraceful conduct on six of the seven charges brought against her. They directed that she be suspended for eight months from the register of veterinary surgeons, so removing her right to practise for that period. The appellant has appealed to the Board against the whole of the direction.

2

Disciplinary proceedings against veterinary surgeons are governed by the provisions of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 ("the 1966 Act"). Section 15 provides for the constitution of a committee of the Council of the College known as the Preliminary Investigation Committee, which has the duty of conducting a preliminary investigation into every disciplinary case and deciding whether the case should be referred to the Disciplinary Committee, which must then consider and determine it. The powers of the latter committee are contained in section 16(1):

"(1) If -

  • (a) a person registered in the register is convicted in the United Kingdom or elsewhere of a criminal offence which, in the opinion of the disciplinary committee, renders him unfit to practise veterinary surgery; or

  • (b) any such person is judged by the disciplinary committee to have been guilty of disgraceful conduct in any professional respect; or

  • (c) the disciplinary committee is satisfied that the name of any such person has been fraudulently entered in the register.

the committee may, if they think fit, direct that his name shall be removed from the register or (except in a case falling within paragraph (c) of this subsection) that his registration therein shall be suspended, that is to say, it shall not have effect during a period specified in the direction."

Under Rule 18.4(c) of the Veterinary Surgeons and Veterinary Practitioners (Disciplinary Committee) (Procedure and Evidence) Rules 2004, made under the powers conferred by paragraph 5(1) of Schedule 2 to the 1966 Act, the Committee has the further option of reprimanding a respondent and/or warning him as to his future conduct. Section 17 provides for an appeal to the Privy Council against a direction of the Disciplinary Committee.

3

The gravamen of the charge of disgraceful conduct was that the appellant had allowed or authorised the veterinary nurses to carry out treatments and prescribe medicines contrary to statutory prohibitions. Section 19 of the 1966 Act makes it a criminal offence for anyone to undertake veterinary surgery unless he is registered in the register of veterinary surgeons or the supplementary veterinary register (for convenience in this judgment all such persons will be referred to by the term "veterinary surgeons"). An exemption is provided by Schedule 3 to that Act, which lists treatments and operations which may be given or carried out by unqualified persons. Paragraph 6 of the amended Schedule contains the following item:

"6. Any medical treatment or any minor surgery (not involving entry into a body cavity) to any animal by a veterinary nurse if the following conditions are complied with, that is to say –

  • (a) the animal is, for the time being, under the care of a registered veterinary surgeon or veterinary practitioner and the medical treatment or minor surgery is carried out by the veterinary nurse at his direction;

  • (b) the registered veterinary surgeon or veterinary practitioner is the employer or is acting on behalf of the employer of the veterinary nurse; and

  • (c) the registered veterinary surgeon or veterinary practitioner directing the medical treatment or minor surgery is satisfied that the veterinary nurse is qualified to carry out the treatment or surgery.

In this paragraph and in paragraph 7 below –

'veterinary nurse' means a nurse whose name is entered in the list of veterinary nurses maintained by the College."

The supply and administration of medicines to animals are governed by section 58(2) and (3) of the Medicines Act 1968:

"(2) Subject to the following provisions of this section -

(a) no person shall sell by retail, or supply in circumstances corresponding to retail sale, a medicinal product of a description, or falling within a class, specified in an order under this section except in accordance with a prescription given by an appropriate practitioner; and

(b) no person shall administer (otherwise than to himself) any such medicinal product unless he is an appropriate practitioner or a person acting in accordance with the directions of an appropriate practitioner.

(3) Subsection (2)(a) of this section shall not apply –

(a) to the sale or supply of a medicinal product to a patient of his by a doctor or dentist who is an appropriate practitioner, or

(b) to the sale or supply of a medicinal product, for administration to an animal or herd under his care, by a veterinary surgeon or veterinary practitioner who is an appropriate practitioner."

It was not in dispute that the medicinal products in question were covered by section 58. The two classes concerned were prescription-only medicines ("POMs") and pharmacy and merchant list medicines ("PMLs"). The appellant's defence was that the acts of the veterinary nurses which were the subject of the charges were done when the animals concerned were in her care and the treatment in each case was carried out by the nurses under her direction.

4

The basic facts of the case against the appellant were set out in charges 1 to 6 brought against her (charge 7 is omitted, as this was dismissed by the Disciplinary Committee):

"1. On or about 15 June 2004, at your practice at Health4Pets, 2 Bakers Walk, Sawbridgeworth, you allowed and/or authorised the supply and/or administration of a prescription only medicine, namely a vaccine Duramune DAPPi + LC, to a Jack Russell Terrier dog named Ben, belonging to Sarah Milne, when:

  • (i) Ben was not for the purposes of the supply and/or administration of that medicine under the care of a veterinary surgeon within the meaning of Part 2 H of the Guide to Professional Conduct; and/or,

  • (ii) The person administering the prescription only medicine was not a veterinary surgeon, or a person acting in accordance with the directions of a veterinary surgeon.

2. On or about 15 June 2004, at your practice at Health4Pets, 2 Bakers Walk, Sawbridgeworth, you allowed and/or authorised the supply and/or administration of a prescription only medicine, namely 3 × 2 pipettes of Frontline Dog and/or a pharmacy and Merchant List medicine, namely 1 tablet of Drontal Plus XL, to Sarah Milne for her Jack Russell Terrier dog named Ben, when:

  • (i) Ben was not for the purposes of the supply and/or administration of those medicines under the care of a veterinary surgeon within the meaning of Part 2 H of the Guide to Professional Conduct.

3. On or about 16 June 2004, at your practice at Health4Pets, 2 Bakers Walk, Sawbridgeworth, you allowed and/or authorised the supply and/or administration of a prescription only medicine, namely a vaccine Duramune DAPPi + LC, to a Jack Russell Terrier dog named Harry belonging to Lynne Titheradge, when:

  • (i) Harry was not for the purposes of the supply and/or administration of that medicine under the care of a veterinary surgeon within the meaning of Part 2 H of the Guide to Professional Conduct; and/or,

  • (ii) The person administering the prescription only medicine was not a veterinary surgeon, or a person acting in accordance with the directions of a veterinary surgeon.

4. On or about 21 September 2004, at your practice at Health4Pets, 2 Bakers Walk, Sawbridgeworth, you allowed and/or authorised the supply and/or administration of a prescription only medicine, namely a vaccine Duramune DAPPi + LC, to a Jack Russell Terrier dog named Jake belonging to Maralyn Imbrogino, when:

  • (i) Jake was not for the purposes of the supply and/or administration of that medicine under the care of a veterinary surgeon within the meaning of Part 2 H of the Guide to Professional Conduct; and/or,

  • (ii) The person administering the prescription only medicine was not a veterinary surgeon, or a person acting in accordance with the directions of a veterinary...

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