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RCVS responds to Defra statement on its ‘protect the VN title’ petition

The Government has decided that it will not introduce new legislation to criminalise improper use of the title ‘veterinary nurse’.

In August last year, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons launched a petition asking the Government to protect the title ‘veterinary nurse’ by legally restricting it to registered veterinary nurses therefore making it an offence for unqualified and unregistered laypeople to refer to themselves as a veterinary nurse.

The RCVS, along with the British Veterinary Association and British Veterinary Nursing Association believe that only individuals with the appropriate level of training and professional responsibilities should be able to use the title ‘veterinary nurse’, and that its use by unregistered individuals is misleading, with the potential to endanger animal welfare.

The campaign received an astonishing level of support, with over 21,000 people signing the official petition. Furthermore, the campaign galvanised the veterinary nursing profession, as well as veterinary surgeons and other practice staff, with many supporting and promoting the campaign on social media and through the press. It has also raised the profile of veterinary nurses with the public, and helped to improve awareness within veterinary practices that it is contrary to the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct to refer to someone as a ‘veterinary nurse’ unless they are registered and qualified as such.

The current Government has a deregulatory agenda, and therefore it was always going to be challenging to persuade it to protect the title in this parliament. It has now responded to the petition to explain that it will not introduce new legislation to criminalise improper use of the title ‘veterinary nurse’.

While this is disappointing, the RCVS is heartened to be asked to work with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to find new ways of bolstering the veterinary nursing profession. A significant part of this work will be a review of Schedule 3 of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966, which allows certain minor acts of veterinary surgery to be delegated to veterinary nurses. The RCVS hopes that Schedule 3 can be simplified to give VNs more clarity and confidence over what tasks they can undertake, and augmented to strengthen the role of VNs in areas such as anaesthesia.

The RCVS has also launched the ‘VN Futures’ project, following on from last year’s Vet Futures research and report. VN Futures will take a long-term view, seeking to prepare for the future and to set ambitious goals for strengthening the profession. 

The RCVS would like to thank the many Members of Parliament from all parties who came forward to support the campaign. It would also like to give special thanks to those veterinary nurses who have tirelessly assisted with promoting the campaign, especially on social media. The RCVS continues to believe that the title ‘veterinary nurse’ should be protected, and will continue to make the argument in favour of new legislation.

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