RCVS Council approves mediation service
A service to help resolve lower-level complaints about veterinary services has been approved by the RCVS Council.
The college-funded service aims to resolves complaints between animal owners and veterinary practices that do not meet the threshold for serious professional misconduct.
Over the past three years, the college trialled two different services for alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Since October 2016, this took the form of the Veterinary Client Mediation Service (VCMS), delivered by Nockolds Solicitors.
During its trial period, 165 of the 870 enquiries the service received went to mediation, of which 129 were successfully mediated and 36 are unresolved.
Out of the remaining enquiries:
- 297 resulted in the client being referred back to the practice to allow internal complaints processes to be exhausted first
- 93 cases did not progress as the animal owner did not pursue the complaint
- 73 were dealt with through advice
- 66 did not progress as the practice declined to engage
- 76 were outside the service’s remit
- 100 cases are currently ongoing.
The Veterinary Defence Society (VDS) assisted more than 150 practices who agreed to take part in the ADR trial. A spokesperson said: “In the vast majority of cases mediation has resulted in a satisfactory outcome with little or no financial consequences.
“The Society considers this voluntary scheme particularly suited to the many client care complaints that are directed at the RCVS due to public misunderstanding of the College’s role, but the investigation of which creates disproportionate concern to the professionals involved.”
Jennie Jones, a partner and Nockolds Solicitors, added: “Complaints are referred to the VCMS by clients and practices where the relationship has become strained or communication may be difficult. Importantly the service does not look at who is right or wrong, but focuses on finding an outcome that both parties can live with and bringing an end to the complaint.”
So far outcomes have ranged from reassuring clients and helping them to come to terms with what has happened, refunding fees, offering further explanations or apologies, small goodwill payments, securing procedural changes within practice, and getting clients to agree to settle any outstanding fees withheld due to the complaint.
“We understand complaints are highly emotional and stressful for both parties, so the VCMS team will not ask parties to speak to one another directly,” Jennie added. “It is also not about assigning blame but is about moving forward to allow both parties to bring the complaint to a conclusion.
“When we hear from practices and clients alike that they can now sleep at night, or their relief that a complaint is resolved, I know ADR and the VCMS does help and make a difference.”
Council agreed that Nockolds should continue to administer the scheme, with a review in 18 months to take experience and learning into account as the scheme evolves.