Government & LegislationVeterinary

Vet cleared of ‘disgraceful conduct’ after cat dies

The Disciplinary Committee of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has found a London-based veterinary surgeon not guilty of “disgraceful conduct in a professional respect”, after a cat died during treatment.

The Disciplinary Committee hearing for Sarah Lee Dantas-Holmes concerned the death of a cat, named Hope. On 19 April 2017, Hope was due to undergo an operation under general anaesthetic to explore a growth inside her mouth.

The charges related to Hope’s unexpected death and Dantas-Holmes’ subsequent communication with the cat’s owners.

Dantas-Holmes accepted that Hope’s death was “most likely” due to her “failing to flush fluid through the giving set attached to an intravenous drip, leaving air in the tubing causing some air to enter Hope’s bloodstream when the cannula was placed and the giving set’s control opened”.

The first set of charges related to Dantas-Holmes’ initial phone call to the owners 10 minutes after the cat’s death, in which she told one of them the cat had died because of a reaction to anaesthetic drugs. Dantas-Holmes failed to mention that the cause of death was still to be determined or that a likely cause was “an air embolism and/or a complication relating to the intravenous drip”.

Following her call to the cat’s owners, Dantas-Holmes viewed CCTV of her actions after which the owners came into the practice later in the day. The communications during that time made up the second set of charges that, during this meeting, Dr Dantas-Holmes didn’t correct her earlier statements about the cause of Hope’s death neither did she mention that there was an ongoing investigation.

The third set of charges related to Dantas-Holmes’ subsequent clinical records, in which it was alleged that she failed to include references to the findings on review of the CCTV footage of Hope’s death, and the possibility of an air embolism and/or complication relating to the intravenous drip.

The fourth and final set of charges were that her conduct was misleading, and/or dishonest. Ultimately, the committee found Dantas-Holmes not guilty of disgraceful conduct in a professional respect.

Stuart Drummond, committee chair, said: “The findings of this committee demonstrate that there were errors and omissions in communications with the owners. When communicating with a client it is the professional’s responsibility to ensure that the client has heard and understood what has been said. The importance of good and effective communication is particularly important when an unforeseen and shocking event occurs such as it did in this case.

“The particular circumstances of this case demonstrate how important it is to communicate effectively and the need for the veterinary surgeon to ensure that their clinical records for which they are wholly responsible, are complete.”

He added: “The committee concluded that its findings demonstrated a departure from professional standards but that the falling short was not so grave as to amount to disgraceful conduct in a professional respect.”

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