The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has published new guidance for veterinary surgeons on 24-hour emergency first aid and pain relief, providing greater definition of the professional and legal responsibilities of veterinary surgeons in the provision of emergency care, as well as owners’ responsibilities for their animals.

Two sections of the supporting guidance to the Code of Professional Conduct have been updated – Chapter 2 ‘Veterinary care’ and Chapter 3 ’24-hour emergency first aid and pain relief’ – placing a greater emphasis on owners’ legal responsibilities for their animals while obligating veterinary surgeons to provide full details of their 24-hour emergency cover provision to clients.

Although veterinary surgeons are professionally obliged to take steps to provide 24-hour emergency first aid and pain relief, the new supporting guidance clarifies situations where delaying or declining attendance to an animal may be appropriate. It is hoped this will assist and empower vets to decline to attend an animal away from practice where they feel it is unnecessary or unsafe.


The changes are the culmination of an evidence-gathering process with both members of the profession and animal owners about each group’s expectations around the provision of 24-hour emergency care.


This process began with a call for evidence at the end of 2013, which garnered some 656 pages of written evidence, as well as a petition on home visits with over 2,800 signatures. Following this, in March 2014 there was a three-day hearing in which 15 organisations and 10 individuals were invited to attend to give evidence to the RCVS Standards Committee. Also taken into account were more than 1,000 responses from veterinary surgeons taking part in the Survey of the Professions and an online survey with 1,250 animal owners.

After a thorough review of the evidence the Standards Committee developed the new supporting guidance, which was agreed in principle by RCVS Council in its June meeting.

Gordon Hockey, RCVS Registrar, welcomed the new supporting guidance, saying: “Following the considerable disquiet within the profession following the Disciplinary Committee’s decision on the Chikosi hearing in June 2013, we decided that only a thorough evidence-gathering process with all parties could resolve the apparent gap between the expectation of the public regarding 24-hour emergency care and the profession’s ability to meet this.


“We are very happy with the way that this process was carried out and would like to thank the many individual veterinary surgeons and animal owners, as well as representative organisations, who have contributed to this outcome.

“By making the legal and professional obligations of veterinary surgeons and the welfare obligations of animal owners clearer we hope that this new guidance should allay some of the frustrations and concerns of the profession.”

The new supporting guidance for Chapter 3 ’24-hour emergency first aid and pain relief’ can be viewed at, while the additional guidance for Chapter 2 ‘Veterinary care’ can be viewed at


A webinar in which Gordon Hockey and Clare Tapsfield-Wright, former Chairman of Standards Committee, explain the guidance in greater detail takes place at 8.30pm on Monday 28 July 2014. Visit to register.