Veterinary care with reasonable care and skill

When you buy veterinary care for your animal in the UK, you are buying a service which is protected under consumer law.

Veterinary surgeons are regarded as service providers and so they have to adhere to the Consumer Rights Act, which protects your rights when purchasing a service or product.

The Consumer Rights Act states that a service should be provided with reasonable care and skill.

Vets and your consumer rights

The Consumer Rights Act says that information which is spoken or written is binding where you rely on it.

Where the price is not agreed beforehand, the service must also be provided for a reasonable price.

And unless a particular timescale for performing the service is set out or agreed, the service must be carried out in a reasonable time.

How to complain about poor vet service

If the service your vet has provided wasn’t performed with reasonable care and skill, you’re entitled to complain and request one of the following remedies under the Consumer Rights Act:

  • The vet can redo the element of the service that's inadequate, or perform the whole service again at no extra cost to you, within a reasonable time and without causing you significant inconvenience.
  • Or you can claim for a price reduction in circumstances where the repeat performance is impossible, or can’t be done within a reasonable time or without causing significant inconvenience. Depending on how severe the failings are, this could be up to 100% of the cost, and the vet should refund you within 14 days of agreeing that you're entitled to a refund.

When has a vet failed to act with reasonable care and skill?

Vets must adhere to a Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) professional code of conduct.

You can make a complaint against your vet if you think they failed to meet the professional standards of reasonable care and skill that you would expect from a vet.

You can also complain to voluntary, independent and free mediation service Veterinary Client Mediation Service (VCMS) about service issues after you’ve been through the surgery’s complaints procedure.

If you’re unhappy with the fees your vet is charging, read our dedicated guide on how to complain about vet fees and get your money back.

The RCVS code of professional conduct

There is a code of professional conduct all veterinary surgeons have to the follow called the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Code of Professional Conduct for Veterinary Surgeons.

The RCVS regulates veterinary surgeons in accordance with the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966, to protect the public interest and to safeguard animal health and welfare.

Vet’s responsibility to your pet

Veterinary surgeons must make animal health and welfare their first consideration when attending to animals. Here are some key principles that must guide your vet’s treatment of your pet:

  • must keep within their own area of competence and refer cases responsibly
  • must take steps to provide 24-hour emergency first aid and pain relief to animals according to their skills and the specific situation
  • must prescribe, supply and administer medicines to your pet responsibly

Vet’s responsibility to you

Veterinary surgeons must also be open and honest with you, respecting your needs and requirements. In addition to responding promptly, fully and courteously to any complaints and criticism, vets must also:

  • offer independent and impartial advice
  • inform you of any conflicts of interest
  • supply you with appropriate information about the practice, including the costs of services and medicines
  • communicate effectively with you in written and spoken English
  • ensure they obtain informed consent from you before any treatments or procedures are carried out
  • not disclose information about you or your pet to a third party, unless you give permission - unless the animal’s welfare or the public interest may be compromised. For example a vet might discover a problem with your animal which must have been caused by another vet, and so would see reporting the vet as acting in the public interest to safeguard the welfare of other animals.

What is negligence and how do I claim compensation?

Negligence is when a vet breaches the duty of care regarded as standard of the profession at the time, and their action (or inaction) resulted in harm, loss, injury or damage which was reasonably foreseeable.

For example, a vet may have prescribed an inappropriate course of treatment and, as a result, the animal suffered a permanent injury which could have been avoided if the correct course was given.

As well as poor advice, negligence can also occur as a result of missing advice or inaction – it isn’t just confined to things that have been done.

The outcome of surgery or treatment is not always certain, so bear in mind that an unsuccessful outcome is not necessarily because the vet has been negligent.

How to complain if a vet has been negligent

If your pet has suffered because of a vet’s negligence, you can make a complaint to the voluntary, independent and free mediation service Veterinary Client Mediation Service (VCMS).

Your complaint to the VCMS must clearly outline the remedy you expect for the harm caused. For example, you can ask for:

  • a formal apology
  • a refund
  • free corrective treatment
  • compensation.

The VCMS scheme is voluntary, so this means that the veterinary surgeon must agree to VCMS’ involvement.

You can contact the VCMS directly using 0345 040 5834 or enquiries@vetmediation.co.uk.

In addition to negligence, the VCMS also hears complaints about fees, and the service you’ve received from a veterinary practice.

If your pet has suffered pain, injury, inconvenience or death as a result of professional negligence, these are the steps you can take to claim compensation:

  1. See if you can negotiate amicably with your vet first
  2. If this doesn’t work, seek legal advice. A lawyer may be able to help you prove negligence, which can be difficult to do

Legal action for negligence must be started within six years of it taking place or, in a case where there is latent damage, from the point you become aware of it for the first time.

What to do if a vet has been unprofessional in conduct

Professional misconduct includes behaviour such as dishonesty, taking advantage of your age or inexperience, or acting against your instructions.

If you think your vet is guilty of professional misconduct, you can report this to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) who will investigate.

You can contact the RCVS on 020 7202 0789 or fill in its enquiry form and they’ll get back to you.

How to claim compensation for misconduct

If your vet is found guilty of misconduct, the RCVS may discipline the vet but it has no power to compensate you.

If your pet was injured as a result of the misconduct, you can still pursue the vet for compensation if you want to.

To claim compensation follow these steps:

  1. See if you can negotiate amicably with your vet first
  2. If this doesn’t work, seek legal advice. A lawyer may be able to help you prove misconduct, which can be difficult to do

What to do if a vet hasn’t been clear about fees

Veterinary surgeons should be open and honest about fees for veterinary treatment.

Read our guide for more information on what to do if you’re in dispute with your vet over fees.

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