Who are the VDS? Who we are, what we do and why we do it

Who are the VDS? Who we are, what we do and why we do it

With a long history and more than 150 years of experience we are honoured to be the chosen Professional Indemnity Insurers of more than 95% of UK and Irish veterinary professionals. 

At the VDS, we’re very proud of our heritage. On Wednesday the 6th September 1865, a vet named Ephraim Alfred Friend organised a meeting “for the purpose of forming a society for mutual defence against unjust actions at law for alleged malpractice or occasional accidents during operations”. Inviting delegates from Liverpool, Lancashire, and Yorkshire Veterinary Medical associations, the Veterinary Mutual Defence Society was formed, with the motto ‘Defence, not Defiance’. 

An extract from the first list of members of the then Veterinary Mutual Defence Society, September 1865.

The original aim of the Society was twofold; firstly, to provide funds for the defence of members who found themselves subject to legal proceedings and, secondly, to provide relief for widows and orphans of unfortunate members of the Society. By 1867, at the second Annual General Meeting, the Society’s name was changed to The National Veterinary Benevolent and Mutual Defence Society, and the funds for each part were kept and maintained entirely separately from each other. 

The Society steadily grew in numbers, with 120 veterinary surgeon members by 1866, although for the first 30 years or so it was maybe not as ‘national’ as they had hoped, often being referred to as ‘the Manchester Society’. Still, the Officers of the Society travelled many miles to support and assist their members, all at their own expense. In fact, it wasn’t until 1954 that the Council agreed to reimburse any expenses for duties on behalf of the Society.  

The Society’s chief purpose as a means of defence was firmly established, and between 1865 and 1900 the Society considered a total of 126 claims, with 22 of these going as far as court, and the Society losing only four of them. 

We like to think that we have done our founders proud by growing and developing the VDS into what it is today. While still maintaining their core beliefs of ‘Defence, not defiance’, we strive to keep our members’ interests (and their careers) at the heart of everything we do. Our Policy has grown and changed to keep up with the needs of modern veterinary practices and veterinary professionals. From multi-vet policies to individual veterinary subcontractor (locum) Policies, we insure bricks and mortar practices and telemedicine vets, practice RVNs and locum RVNs, and veterinary professionals who may have diversified into many different areas. 

Right from the start, we had a team of experienced vets, ready and willing to support fellow veterinary professionals with claims and complaints. While we don’t tend to travel by horse and cart any more, our Claims team are always on hand to support our members, whether that be a sympathetic ear over the phone, some advice on letter writing or travelling in person to stand side by side with a member in court. 

Learn more about the history of the VDS and the resources and tools available to our members in this short video.

Our Member Newsletters, which made their first appearance in the 1980s remain, to this day, one of the most popular and one of the most read pieces of literature by VDS vets and RVNs - or so we are told by its fans! The cautionary tales with their mix of real-life experience, humour (and sometimes horror), always instil the thoughts of “there, but for the Grace of God, go I…” in our members. But we don’t stop there. 

There’s a good reason they say prevention is better than cure, which is why in recent years we have extended our services to provide VDS members with a range of tools that help them avoid and manage mistakes and risks in practice before they even get as far as becoming a complaint or claim. 

Our VDS Training team, which is made up of a combination of experienced vets and nurses, personal and performance coaches and even a neuroscientist, offer a wide range of training courses and coaching programmes specifically for the veterinary professions. Our training has been designed to help veterinary professionals avoid mistakes, deal with and learn from complaints and build workplaces to help every team member thrive and develop fulfilling careers. 

One thing we’re sure our founders couldn’t have imagined was a VDS app. After all, the first phone was only invented in 1876; over a decade after the VDS was formed! VetSafe is an innovative and one-of-a-kind, adverse event reporting system. Having supported VDS members through thousands of claims and complaints, we know that no matter how highly trained and motivated you are, mistakes happen. We also know that pointing the finger and blaming and shaming individuals doesn’t stop mistakes from happening again. What prevents mistakes is understanding the systems in place and the steps before the mistake occurred and using that knowledge to implement changes to make sure they don’t happen again. VetSafe is the ideal tool for this, allowing teams to work through incidents and improve the quality of their veterinary care. It’s also there to support individuals involved in those incidents and reassure you that you are absolutely not alone. 

So, who are the VDS? We’re a team of people who have the best interests of UK and Irish veterinary professionals at heart. We’re here to support our members when complaints happen, when mistakes are made, and claims are threatened. We’re here to help our members learn from and prevent mistakes happening in the first place; and, we’ll always be here to defend you when you need us the most.  

VetSafe is an online incident reporting tool provided by the Veterinary Defence Society Limited (trading as VDS Insurance) to its members 

VDS Training Services Ltd (trading as VDS Training) is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Veterinary Defence Society Limited 

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