How do I choose Indemnity Limits?
Assessment of your or your practice’s requirements for professional indemnity insurance is a matter for you.
The Policy allows you to choose a separate Indemnity Limit for each of the three Risk Groups. It is very important that you carefully consider and review the Risk Groups and Indemnity Limits you require to be included in the Policy Schedule, to ensure that they are sufficient for your needs and those of the Practice. These limits will be the maximum liability of the VDS for a claim or related claims connected with that Risk Group, and this limit includes damages and/or legal and other costs. Please refer to the Policy wording and "About the VDS Practice Policy" document for further information.
You must specify the Indemnity Limit that you require in respect of cover for civil liability for damage to property such as animals or intangible property such as business losses. You should only choose an Indemnity Limit for a Risk Group if the Practice caries our work in that Risk Group.
When choosing your Indemnity Limits, you should be aware that, in addition to considering the value of individual animals under your care, the larger claims handled by the Society often involve numerous animals and/or business losses that flow from a single occurrence.Examples of these types of claim include:
- allegations of negligence in respect of infectious disease at a racing greyhound kennels leading to a large claim for the loss of valuable greyhounds and significant business losses caused when the Kennels were closed down by the authorities,
- allegations of negligent transmission of infectious disease between several equestrian establishments leading to movement restrictions imposed by the State on affecting numerous horses prompting a large claim for associated business losses and costs associated with loss of amenity,
- allegations of negligent advice in respect of a dairy farm herd health plan resulting in a large claim for significant production losses extending back over a period of several years.
All Indemnity Limits are inclusive of any damages you or the Practice may be liable to pay as well as the defence costs and the costs of any other party which you or the Practice may be liable to meet. When significant claims are contested it is common for the combined legal costs to exceed £100,000/€120,000.
How does the VDS define different Risk Groups and types of veterinary work?
For the purpose of providing Professional Indemnity Insurance, the VDS assigns all Normal Veterinary Work to one of three ‘Risk Groups’. More detail is provided below, but briefly:
- Veterinary work in respect of Domestic Pets is assigned to Risk Group D
- Veterinary work in respect of Equines is assigned to Risk Group E
- Veterinary work in respect of Farm Animals is assigned to Risk Group F
Veterinary practices working predominantly with Domestic Pets (Risk Group D) must declare any occasional work the Practice may undertake in respect of Equines (Risk Group E) or Farm Animals (Risk Group F) – other than food animal species kept non-commercially, as pets. Practices can do this by declaring the appropriate percentage for Risk Group E and/or Risk Group F against one or more of the veterinary surgeons to be covered under this insurance.
Cover provided to veterinary practices that deal with Equine and/or Farm work (Risk Groups E and/ or F) will automatically include an indemnity limit of £250,000 (€300,000) for Risk Group D.
Cover will be provided for Emergency Veterinary First Aid and Pain Relief in animals not included in the Risk Groups detailed in your Practice’s Policy Schedule. Please consult the VDS Policy for details of the indemnity limit that will apply.
Allocation of veterinary work to the appropriate Risk Group
Risk Group D includes veterinary work involving:
- Small animals kept as domestic pets, including exotic animals (e.g. birds, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, fish)
- Small animals (as above) kept for breeding, research, showing, display to the public (to include small animals kept in zoos/safari parks/aquaria/wildlife parks/marine zoos) and in private collections
- Working/sporting/farm dogs
- Guide dogs
- Greyhounds kept for racing/breeding
- Greyhound racing track veterinary duties
- Racing and fancy pigeons
- Native Wildlife
- Food animal species kept non-commercially, as pets
- Work as a Named Veterinary Surgeon
- Diagnostic laboratory work to all of the above
But EXCLUDING (i) equine animals; (ii) food animals (i.e. species of animal normally used for the production of human or animal food or fibre, skin or hide) kept for commercial purposes.
Risk Group E includes veterinary work involving:
- Equine animals
- Racecourse work
- Riding establishment inspections
- Equines kept in zoos/safari parks/wildlife parks
- Competition and race horse regulatory work
- Diagnostic laboratory work relating to equine animals
But EXCLUDING animals in Risk Groups D and F.
Risk Group F includes veterinary work involving:
- Food animals i.e. species of animal normally used for the production of human or animal food or fibre, skin or hide (excluding equine animals)
- Animals other than those in Risk Group D (and excluding equine animals) kept for display to the public: to include animals kept in zoos/safari parks/aquaria/wildlife parks/marine zoos
- Any animal not included in Risk Group D or E
- Veterinary services relating to meat hygiene and Animal Feed production
- Diagnostic laboratory work relating to food animal species
- Export/import certification of food, food products, pet-food, animal feed, eggs, animal products, skins, hides, agricultural machinery
But EXCLUDING animals in Risk Groups D and E.
Allocation of work in specific veterinary disciplines
Certain types of work or activity might relate to more than one Risk Group, or might appear initially to fall into a separate category altogether. When completing the Proposal Form and checking the allocation of work for all the veterinary surgeons in your Practice, you should allocate this work proportionately to Risk Groups D, E, and F only.
- Export/import certification (of animals, embryos, semen etc.) should be allocated proportionately to the relevant Risk Group depending on the species involved.
- Veterinary work in specialist disciplines (e.g. anaesthesia, pathology, ophthalmology, cardiology, dermatology, nutrition, advanced breeding – AI, ET, semen/fertility testing etc.) should be allocated proportionately to the relevant Risk Group depending on the species involved.
- Education (research, teaching, lecturing, training, CPD, examining etc.) should be allocated proportionately to the relevant Risk Group depending on the species involved.
- Consultancy (insurance, legal, nutrition, pet food, pharmaceutical, forensic, expert witness, charity, animal welfare, health schemes etc.) should be allocated proportionately to the relevant Risk Group depending on the species involved.
- Inspections (riding establishments, boarding kennels, breeding establishments, zoos, dangerous wild animals, dangerous dogs, Home Office, labs, biotech establishments, pet shops, practice standards etc.) should be allocated proportionately to the relevant Risk Group depending on the species involved.
- OVS/Local Authority/State/County Council/Public Health/trading standards etc. should be allocated proportionately to the relevant Risk Group depending on the species involved.
- Shows (agricultural, horse, pets, dogs, cats, birds etc.) should be allocated proportionately to the relevant Risk Group depending on the species involved.
- Quarantine establishments – inspection and treatment of animals etc. should be allocated proportionately to the relevant Risk Group depending on the species involved.
- Film supervision etc. should be allocated proportionately to the relevant Risk Group depending on the species involved.
- Tele/on-line consulting, advising, sales etc. should be allocated proportionately to the relevant Risk Group depending on the species involved.
- Work for charitable organisations and unpaid work etc. should be allocated proportionately to the relevant Risk Group depending on the species involved.
- Practice management/advising practice colleagues etc. should be allocated proportionately to the relevant Risk Group depending on the species involved.
- Sales of medicines (including Prescription Only and lower categories), pet-food, accessories etc. should be allocated proportionately to the relevant Risk Group depending on the species involved.
Can locum veterinary surgeons have their own cover?
VDS insurance is provided to practices and all the named individuals on a practice ‘schedule’. A practice is defined as one or more veterinary surgeons providing veterinary services so could be a locum vet, a single handed practice or a multi-man business spread over many branches.
Generally speaking, locums are contracted to replace absent veterinary or nursing staff and as such are covered (by the practice policy) against allegations of negligence – i.e. civil claims (section two of the Policy). However, unless they are named on the practice schedule of insurance, which is unlikely in the case of a replacement locum, they are not covered for criminal or disciplinary (C&D) investigations under section three of the Policy, because the person that they are replacing retains that section of cover even when not at work.
Locums are therefore exposed to the threat of C&D investigations and should consider insuring themselves as individual ‘practices’. When choosing indemnity levels, they should consider the species likely to be treated, the individual animal value and the herd/enterprise value. This is particularly important when arranging cover for vets working as independent ‘sub-contractors’ – i.e. additional to the normal staffing level of the practice - when the indemnity level carried by the practice should be matched by that carried by any additional contractors.
Everyone carrying their own policy has fully portable C&D cover up to £150,000 (€180,000).
Can the VDS advise on experience with the Small Claims Court?
Members’ frustration at the number of small unpaid debts is understandable, and at first sight the Small Claims Court procedure appears to be a simple way to get results. The Society cannot become involved in debt collection, but our members’ experience of this process shows that it is not guaranteed to succeed in fees being paid.
Here are three of the most commonly encountered pitfalls:
Errors in the name and address of the debtor are frequently the cause of the process being stymied. The court usually serves its notices by post, and defendants will have no difficulty in resisting your claim if they can show they have not received the court papers.
Members have to consider whether, even if they win their case, they will actually recover any money from the client. Statistics have been quoted which indicate that less than 30% of awards made by the court are actually recovered. Whilst the pursuit of an outstanding debt is always a business decision, serious consideration should be given to whether a Judgement in your favour is likely to be enforceable.
Many of these individuals are seasoned fee avoiders and know their way round the system. In the Society’s experience, many will respond by claiming that they are refusing to settle their account because they allege negligence in some aspect of their animal’s treatment. It is not unknown for a claim for unpaid fees of a few hundred pounds to be met by a Defence and Counterclaim for several thousand. This is the biggest trap of all, as once a Counterclaim has been lodged members cannot just abandon their claim for fees and walk away. The counterclaim has to be answered, even if the original claim is dropped, and failure to do so may result in a finding of negligence against the practice and an award in favour of the client. If you are met with a counterclaim, contact the Society immediately for advice.
How involved should we become in holding our clients' pets?
The general principle governing this answer is that when examining or treating an animal, the law deems the veterinary surgeon to be in charge, and therefore responsible for the safety of the owner as well as their animal.
In each individual situation, it means assessing not only the animal, but also the capabilities and limitations of the client:
- Is the owner physically strong enough?
- Do they understand the risks involved?
- Do they understand the situation well enough to carry out the vet’s instructions?
It is prudent to offer your support staff’s assistance with restraint, in any situation in which the owner’s ability to cope is in doubt. If the client declines the offer, explain the possible consequences, and equally importantly, note it in the clinical records. This will help establish that the owner had been kept properly informed, if there were to be an accident. See the VDS Advice Note, Cats and the inherent dangers in handling them, for further useful information.
How do I deal with the equine client who wants a "cheap PPE"?
To remain within your VDS cover, you cannot pick and choose the bits of the PPE you perform. The old style ‘heart, wind, eyes and action’ examination and certificate is a recipe for litigation.
The choice is simple - it’s either a two-stage or a five-stage examination. The two-stage is the only ‘cut-down’ PPE you should offer, and before you undertake them, clients must sign the prescribed letter which signifies that they understand the limitations of the examination. This letter is available in PDF form from this website or from our Knutsford office as a pad of 50. Please be aware that failure to obtain a completed copy of this letter from a purchaser in advance of your undertaking a two stage PPE constitutes a breach of VDS policy conditions.
The VDS has been surprised to discover, from those attending the BEVA PPE Workshops, how some veterinary surgeons don’t bother to feel for things such as Hobday scars during a two-stage examination, yet would always do so in a full five-stage examination. The standard of examination should be no different between the two examinations, only the number of stages undertaken.
What is the process of providing a Witness Statement to an RCVS investigation?
In this context, a Witness Statement is a formal document recording an individual’s factual account of their involvement in an incident under investigation. The RCVS has traditionally instructed solicitors to obtain Witness Statements potentially for use as evidence in subsequent Disciplinary Hearings. It is important therefore to ensure that any statement provided is accurate and based solely upon facts, not on opinion.
The College’s solicitors will typically meet the witness to discuss the events on which they are able to give evidence, prior to producing a draft statement for the witness’s review. Once entirely satisfied with the contents, the witness will be asked to sign and date it, including a paragraph confirming they are content to attend any disciplinary proceedings. As soon as members receive the draft, we recommend they contact the Society for advice, prior to signing off the final version.
Increasingly the RCVS are taking statements during an investigation ostensibly to ensure they have the ‘story straight’, rather than necessarily for use in the pursuit of disciplinary proceedings. MsRCVS have a duty to comply with College investigations, but members should be aware of potential pitfalls. If, during the taking of a statement, the College solicitor realises the interviewee has, or is about to, incriminate him- or herself with respect to any potential breach of the RCVS Code of Conduct or the law, they are professionally obliged to warn the individual concerned. Despite this, there have been recent enquiries during which warnings were not provided, and the solicitor simply passed the unsigned draft statement to the Professional Conduct Department, which has then raised a concern against that individual.
Acceptable alternative responses on being asked to provide a witness statement are for a member either to provide a factual report of their involvement in a case (without the expression of any opinion) or to request that the RCVS solicitor provides a list of specific questions which must, of course, be answered factually.
This is not, in any way, to be regarded as encouragement for VDS members to refuse to cooperate with a regulator. Rather, as a result of recent experience, by recommending that members seek prior advice from the Society, it is intended to enhance, both for regulator and witnesses, the relevance of their factual evidence in the search after truth.
What is an Extended Reporting Period (ERP)?
The policy now provides an Extended Reporting Period (ERP) for civil claims and RCVS/VCI complaints for six years from the expiry of the policy, in particular circumstances which include:
- the practice ceasing to trade,
- or an insured veterinary surgeon dying, retiring, becoming permanently disabled or commencing a career break (i.e. is not engaged or employed by the practice and does not undertake veterinary work or veterinary nursing work elsewhere).
The Society will provide cover in respect of claims made up to six years after the end of the policy period, subject to the terms set out in the policy. The VDS only requires notification of any practice cessation, death, permanent disablement, permanent retirement or career break of the relevant veterinary surgeon before the expiry of the period of insurance. These ERP terms are included in the practice policy and, like many of our services, we believe they are unique to the VDS policy, and the very sort of practical element you would expect from a mutual insurer run by vets for vets, responding to the needs of the profession. Of course, we’re only ever a phone call away if you’d like further advice or clarification.
I do extra work at a weekend emergency surgery. Do I need additional cover?
Through your practice, you are insured for any normal veterinary work invoiced by your practice or for any veterinary activities performed on its behalf, or with their permission, such as attendance at local agricultural events or pet shows, up to the number of days allowed annually by your part time policy. It is important that the surgery’s owners consent to the practice insurance covering the risk for any claims arising from this external activity.
However, if members provide independent, privately arranged veterinary services out with their normal practice role, such as weekend or holiday locums, they need to take out their own individual policy to ensure they are covered appropriately. The VDS provides part-time premium options to cater for those members who work up to 50, 100 or 150 days per year, and one of these policies should be ideal for those wishing to undertake additional work or ‘moonlight’ beyond their practice’s usual scope of activity. Members who are registered with VDS in a Full Time capacity can be reassured that the Criminal & Disciplinary section of their policy covers them at all times.
What are the potential pitfalls of going through the Small Claims process to recover client fees?
The Small Claims process is designed for disputes between two parties where one, the claimant, is claiming that the other, the defendant, owes them money, so it appears to be a perfect arena in which veterinary surgeons can seek their rightful fees.
Nevertheless, there are potential hazards to take into account before issuing a claim. First, court fees are payable by the claimant for issuing a claim, and even if it is successful there is certainly no guarantee of payment. The onus is on the claimant to pursue payment after obtaining a judgement in their favour and, on balance, many consider recovering debts through the Small Claims process to be throwing good money after bad.
Frequently, defendants attempt to avoid payment by filing a Defence alleging the treatment provided was negligent. Worse still, they may issue a Defence and Counterclaim suggesting the negligent treatment led to them suffering a financial loss, so it is actually the practice that owes them money!
If the defendant takes either route, the veterinary surgeon is committed to defending their treatment usually by all of the staff involved in the case attending a court hearing to give evidence, and there is extremely limited provision for reclaiming any expenses the practice incurs in doing so. Most professional negligence cases can only be determined by reference to expert opinion, very often paid for by both parties, so the risk increases further of incurring significant costs that you never recoup. And if the case is lost, always a danger in the lottery of litigation, and especially so in the Small Claims process, which is to the court system what the Conference League is to football, there could be an unwelcome finding of negligence against the veterinary practice in the public domain.In other words there are hidden dangers with small claims particularly with ne’er-do-wells who understand how to play the system, so careful thought is necessary in order to avoid annoying, expensive and time-consuming hassle.
Please do not hesitate to call the Society for further advice, if you are unsure of the wisdom of issuing proceedings.
Do we need to be RCVS and VCI members to travel to the UK from ROI to vet horses at auctions?
The RCVS insists that anyone eligible to practice within the UK must follow the protocols they set down whether they are on the Register or not. Different procedures exist depending on your Register status and the level of fees payable will also vary. Our best advice, therefore, is to contact the RCVS prior to travel to ensure that any work is undertaken legally.
Rest assured, policy cover with the Society is valid for working anywhere in the UK and Ireland, and it is not necessary to inform the office about travelling over the water to work. It is, however, necessary to follow the appropriate RCVS protocols mentioned above, to ensure you are working legally as failure to do so would risk voiding your VDS policy cover, if you were considered to be working illegally.
In addition, it is always prudent to ensure that indemnity limits are appropriate to the value of the horses being examined. It is quite acceptable to request uplifts in indemnity limits, if necessary.
I have received an RCVS complaint and they have requested evidence of my PI insurance cover. Why?
Professional Indemnity (PI) insurance policies indemnify the insured against the financial consequences of professional negligence and the College expects all veterinary surgeons to carry appropriate PI cover to ensure animal owners are not financially disadvantaged, if they have a legitimate claim against a practice. This is a strict obligation in the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct. The RCVS is becoming aware that some veterinary surgeons are carrying insurance for College complaints without any concomitant PI cover, and if this comes to light, it could well generate a serious conduct complaint against the vet.
The provision of Professional Indemnity insurance is the core of the Veterinary Defence Society’s business and we undertake to provide insurance up to your chosen indemnity limit. If the College requests details of your PI cover, simply supply a copy of your current VDS cover certificate. Furthermore, all policies with the Society include a £150,000 (€180,000) indemnity for advice and legal expenses incurred in RCVS/VCI cases . This is separate from PI cover and though the College does not place an obligation on veterinary surgeons to carry this type of insurance, we consider it more than prudent, given that your career could be at stake.
Assisting with RCVS complaints is an ever-increasing part of the Society’s work burden and if you are insured with VDS, you are assured of receiving first-rate support and advice from the day the dreaded letter arrives, together with expert legal representation, when appropriate. We are well aware of the existence of other PI policies, but consider the devil can always be found in the detail of the policy wording. We are proud to insure over 90% of the profession and believe our stance on defending reputations, unique comprehensive policy cover, professional advice from experienced vets and our mutual status is inimitable, invaluable and the basis of our success. Our unique selling point is that we will always endeavour to defend your reputation, wherever possible.
Our experience continues to confirm there are no sensible grounds to compromise on PI and Disciplinary cover. Sending a copy of your VDS cover certificate to the RCVS, when requested, will serve to assure the College that you are of the same mind.
Although not compulsory in Ireland at the present time, obtaining Professional Indemnity Insurance cover is sensible and expected to become mandatory shortly. Rest assured the Society already provides the same service to our Irish Members who are unfortunate enough to receive regulatory complaints from the Veterinary Council of Ireland (VCI) as that provided to veterinary surgeons under the jurisdiction of the RCVS under the terms of our current policy.
What is included in the VDS Policy?
See the Our Policy page, for full details of the cover that the VDS can provide, and to download policy documents.