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What does practice standards mean on a vets’ website and is it important?

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With lockdown stimulating many people to buy puppies, veterinary practices have never been busier. Everyone is keen to get their pet registered with their local veterinary practice. But how do you choose which practice to register with? Many people have taken to google and are using the practices’ website in order to compare and contrast the veterinary care available. One thing which can easily confuse people is the Practice Standards Scheme. Below we will discuss this scheme and how to interpret it when you see it advertised on a practice website. 

The RCVS launched the ‘Practice Standards Scheme’ (PSS) in 2005 which aims to improve the standard of care provided by a veterinary practice. The ‘RCVS’ stands for the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, which is the regulator for veterinary professionals, that sets standards across England for veterinary care, both ethically and clinically. All veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses practising in England must be registered with the RCVS. So the RCVS’ views are carried throughout the veterinary service provided within this country. 

The Practice Standards Scheme is a voluntary programme

It has different levels of achievement, with set standards which the practice must achieve in order to gain a certain status. Each level assesses a different level of care. Therefore practices can always strive to improve and move up through the levels, if that is appropriate for them. More importantly, within this voluntary scheme, the practices will receive guidance and advice on how best to improve the service they currently offer. This is a brilliant way of motivating practices to strive to be better without increasing their workload, working hours or increasing their building size.

The different levels of accreditation that a vet practice can apply for include:

  • Core Standards – exceed the basic standards that every practice should meet
  • General Practice – a general all-round practice
  • Emergency Services Clinic – one that deals with emergencies and critical patients
  • Veterinary Hospital – the top tier, with round the clock care and probably other services as well

It’s an assessed scheme

In order to gain the accreditation, the veterinary practice in question will be assessed to ensure they meet specific requirements. Even a practice achieving the most basic accreditation will provide a high level of veterinary care because of the high level of minimum requirements they must provide. 

Remember this scheme is voluntary so any practice that has signed up to the scheme is keen to improve, develop and receive advice. Each volunteer practice will be assigned an assessor. They will thoroughly check equipment, facilities, space, members of the team, working hours and may even observe consultations. They will learn about the managerial side of the practice, operational protocol through bank holidays and out of hours, as well as learning about different practice protocols. Thorough reviews and reports are created; providing the practice with advice on how to improve with lists of things they are doing well. As well as areas in which they could develop a better service. 

What do they have to do?

All veterinary practices and veterinary professionals must abide by the standards set in the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Code of Professional Conduct. Beyond that, however, it depends on the level of their certification. In the small animal world (there are similar systems for equine and farm practices), the standards break down more or less as follows.

RCVS Core Standards Practices

Among other requirements (which, of course, are the legal minimum) the practice has managed to demonstrate that it has provided 24/7 emergency cover (either in-house or externally); suitably trained and insured staff; and that they maintain a clean and hygienic clinical environment. They must also abide by the RCVS Code of Conduct in all matters. And whether they provide estimates to animal owners for procedures and get full consent will always be checked.

RCVS General Practice

These practices must meet all of the Core requirements. But must also show that they have put extra effort into meeting the needs of their patients; not just medically but also psychologically and in terms of their welfare, as well as supporting their team. Most RCVS accredited General Practices will also monitor the outcomes of treatments, commit to further staff education and training, as well as higher levels of diagnostic equipment.

The RCVS Small Animal Emergency Service Clinic (ESC) status

This is over and above General Practice. It tests the practice’s ability to manage emergency and critical care patients, who may need sophisticated treatment suddenly and without warning. These clinics have demonstrated that they can go from “0-60” in pretty much nothing flat!

RCVS Veterinary Hospitals

In addition to General Practice – and often ESC – status, these practices have to demonstrate that they have the facilities and staff to investigate, diagnose and treat more complex cases. This often means that they accept referrals from other vets’. Among other extra requirements, they must have staff on premises 24/7; have protocols for monitoring and improving care (although this is increasingly required at all levels); and have specialist equipment for diagnosing patients with more complex conditions. RCVS hospitals will have undergone many inspections and audits to improve and maintain a high standard of cleanliness and sterility.

However, not all good vet practices are in the PSS

The practice standards scheme is important. But you should take other assets of the business into account too when selecting a veterinary practice. These assets should include: the distance the veterinary practice is from your house, their consulting hours (you need to make sure these fit in well with your daily life), check they are taking on new clients. It’s great idea to speak to other pet owners in your local area in order to get current recommendations on which vets they use and why. 

As it is a voluntary scheme that does (let’s be honest) involve a lot of paperwork, there are some very good practices that have not opted in. However, if you’re looking for a new practice, you can be confident in the standards at an RCVS PSS practice.

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