Ayrshire vet removed from RCVS register for ‘clinical and communication failings’

The disciplinary committee of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has directed its registrar to remove a veterinary surgeon from its register after it found the allegations of a number of charges in relation to his euthanasia of a dog proven.

John Hendrie Smith was removed from the register at the conclusion of the hearing on Friday 26 October 2018. In total Smith faced eight charges against him, all of which related to him undertaking the euthanasia of a German Shepherd named Bouncer during a home visit in January 2017.

The charges alleged that when John Hendrie Smith undertook the euthanasia of Bouncer he had: “Failed to ensure he was sufficiently prepared for the euthanasia in that he failed to attend the visit with a muzzle and failed to attend with any sedative and the means of administering sedative.”

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According to the charges Smith also “failed to delay the euthanasia” until he had the correct items and undertook the euthanasia without sedation. The charges also claimed that Smith had failed to properly explain the procedure and what it entailed. The charges also stated that Smith failed to complete records and failed to obtain informed consent from the dog’s owner.

The Committee found all of the charges against Smith proven, with the exception of charge 4(e) which claimed he had “failed to explain the risks and signs of narcotic excitement”, on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence against him on this particular charge.

It was considered a single, isolated incident by the committee, who said Smith had been a practising veterinary surgeon for 65 years and had an otherwise unblemished career with no adverse professional findings against him. It also took into account testimonials from professional colleagues, clients and his local community.

However, the committee also considered the aggravating factors which included actual injury and unnecessary suffering to an animal, a blatant disregard of the systems that regulate the veterinary profession.

In determining the sanction the committee decided that, because there had been a “serious departure from the professional standards” set out in the RCVS Code, serious harm was caused and there was a serious risk of harm to animals in the future, adding that removing Smith from the register was the only means of protecting animals and the wider public interest.

Chitra Karve, committee chair, said: “The respondent, in his oral evidence, admitted that he was not really a small animal vet, and had not been dealing regularly with small animals for a significant period of time. His specialisation in recent years was with large farm animals.

“The committee considered that the respondent had, and still has, no concept of the difficulties now recognised as inherent in the procedure he performed, or the risks of pain and suffering it posed to the animal.”

She added: “The committee has found that the respondent’s conduct in attempting an intracardiac injection without prior sedation or anaesthesia caused appalling pain and suffering to Bouncer, as evidenced by his screaming, and was wholly unnecessary. The respondent accepted that he had a sedative in his car, but chose not to postpone attempted euthanasia so that he could sedate his patient first.

“The respondent explained in his oral evidence that he had, in the past, euthanased over 200 dogs by intracardiac injection without sedation or anaesthesia. The committee concludes that this was the respondent’s customary method of euthanasia, and he did not understand why it was wholly unacceptable for a reasonably competent veterinary surgeon to carry out euthanasia in this way.

“Given his lack of insight, the committee considers that there is a risk that, if the respondent were to be asked to euthanise a dog in the future, he would be likely to use his customary method, and thereby cause injury and suffering to another animal.”

Smith has 28 days from being informed of the Committee’s decision to make an appeal to the Privy Council.

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