The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Council has approved a pathway for veterinary and animal health paraprofessionals to become associates of or accredited by the College and therefore fall within the RCVS regulatory remit.

At the June 2017 meeting of RCVS Council, members decided to look into two separate models by which paraprofessionals working in the veterinary, animal health or related fields, might be regulated by the College in the future under powers granted by the RCVS’s new Royal Charter in 2015. The first was an ‘accreditation model’, which would involve the RCVS accrediting an organisation which would regulate the profession in question, the second was an ‘associate/ full regulation’ model, in which individual paraprofessionals would receive a similar level of regulation to that already received by veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses. 

As part of its legislation review, the College met with numerous paraprofessional organisations and further considered the two different models before making its recommendations to RCVS Council. At its January 2019 meeting RCVS Council agreed to proceed with both proposed models of paraprofessional regulation (the associate and accreditation models), with the suitability of each model being considered on a case-by-case basis, depending on the nature of the profession applying for recognition. Paraprofessions whose work will need to be underpinned by Schedule 3 reform would need to apply for the associate model, as the RCVS would be required to be directly responsible for the register of any individuals undertaking such minor acts of veterinary surgery.

Council members also confirmed that two paraprofessional groups that have already expressed an interest in being regulated by the College – meat inspectors and animal behaviourists – will now be invited by the College to apply for associate or accredited status.

Commenting on the decision Eleanor Ferguson, RCVS Registrar, said: “This is a very significant decision by Council to open up a pathway to related paraprofessions to apply to become regulated by the College. It is difficult to give a time-frame at this stage as to when these particular professions will be brought on board, as we will have to go through a process of developing a number of new regulatory structures including registration, education and investigation and disciplinary, as well as the appropriate governing bodies for each of the professions. However, we are very pleased that the Association of Meat Inspectors (AMI) and the Animal Behaviour and Training Council (ABTC) have expressed an interested in being regulated by the College and we look forward to working with them to make this happen.”

David Montgomery, President of the ABTC, said: “The ABTC enthusiastically welcomes the news that the RCVS is expanding its influence to include paraprofessionals. We look forward to exploring the opportunity to demonstrate the professional status of ABTC-registered Animal Trainers and Behaviourists by coming under the regulatory umbrella of the RCVS for the benefit of animal welfare.”

Ian Robinson, a Trustee of the AMI, added: “The Association of Meat Inspectors welcome the news that the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons intends to invite paraprofessionals to be regulated under the ambit of the RCVS. We believe it will offer enhanced security, opportunity and status, and we look forward to further dialogue to explore the various models in due course.”

The RCVS is also in communication with a number of other paraprofessional groups, including those representing animal musculoskeletal practitioners and equine dental technicians, about the future of paraprofessional regulation. However, the RCVS Legislation Working Party (LWP) and RCVS Council agreed that, before such professions could become associates, there would need to be reform of the Veterinary Surgeons Act in order to remedy some of the deficiencies of the current legislative regime and make sure that these groups have appropriate legal underpinning for their work. This complements the ongoing discussions on changes to the legislative framework to bolster the role of veterinary nurses. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been asked to consider these specific changes to the legislative framework along with its wider review of improving the legislative underpinning of the veterinary professions. 

One particular issue, about which there have been longstanding discussions, concerns equine dental procedures which are often carried out by well-trained paraprofessionals but without supporting legislation or regulation. The RCVS proposals are designed to remedy these deficiencies by providing a framework for these activities. Neil Townsend, Chair of the British Equine Veterinary Association’s (BEVA) Allied Professional Committee, said “Change to the current situation, where legislative enforcement is impossible, horse owners are confused, and horse welfare is compromised, is long overdue. BEVA is really pleased that the RCVS has listened and is supporting a proposal for regulation of all equine dental procedures. We hope that Government will act.”

Commenting on the decision of Council, RCVS President Amanda Boag, said: “This is a real milestone in the history of the RCVS and represents quite possibly the biggest change to our regulatory role since the introduction of the Register of veterinary nurses in 2007, and should Schedule 3 reform be achieved it would be the most significant change since the role of veterinary nurses was first recognised in law in 1991. It is particularly befitting for our 175th anniversary year, as it demonstrates we are an organisation that can evolve to meet the changes occurring in the wider veterinary and animal health sector and use our regulatory experience and expertise to ensure that animal health and welfare and public health is safeguarded in different, but related fields of endeavour.” 

The full approved paper regarding the review of the minor procedures regime and paraprofessional regulation can be found on the RCVS website here.