Choosing a vet to look after your horse is one of the most important decisions you will make. The quality of care becomes even more critical if your horse is seriously ill or needs specialist investigation or treatment.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to find reliable, easy-to-understand information about specific veterinary surgeons, practices and hospitals. You can ask friends, or scour the internet or social media for anecdotal assessments, but do you really want to choose a veterinary practice in the same way that you would a hotel or restaurant? Probably not.
If your horse needs major surgery, you may well want reassurance that he is likely to get better treatment in the care of one particular equine veterinary hospital. Vets should know if they are good at what they do but, like everyone, they have limitations.
Horses are often treated as members of the family — and owners want to be sure that their animals receive excellent medical treatment.
The care we humans receive must meet standards required by law, whether it’s in a hospital or a care home, from an agency in our own home, at the dentist, in a GP practice or elsewhere. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is the regulator that monitors and inspects all organisations in England providing care, to ensure that standards are being met.
But what about veterinary practices and hospitals? All veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses in the UK must be registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS). As the statutory regulator of vets, the RCVS is responsible under the Veterinary Surgeons Act (1966) for keeping the register of those eligible to practise in the UK, setting standards for veterinary education and regulating the professional conduct of veterinary surgeons.
The remit of the RCVS falls short, however, of regularly appraising the standards of care provided by individual veterinary practices. To address this problem, the Practice Standards Scheme (PSS) was devised as a voluntary initiative to accredit veterinary practices in the UK.
The scheme was first launched in 2005. Through setting standards and carrying out regular assessments, the PSS aims to promote and maintain the highest standards of veterinary care. Membership currently comprises well over half of all veterinary practice premises.
The initiative has recently been updated. The new scheme, launched in November 2015, has built on this success while acting upon much of the feedback received from practices about where improvements could be made. One of the more significant changes is a greater focus on how practices use their resources to create a positive outcome for patients and clients.
So what can horse owners expect from the new PSS?
Importantly, the scheme provides a clear pathway for improvement for all types of practice, as well as providing reassurance to animal owners that practices are transparent and willing to be assessed in the services that they provide.
Under the scheme, practices can be accredited at different levels depending on the services, facilities and equipment they offer. Practices are assessed across a range of different criteria, encompassing areas including client experience, team training and development. A new accreditation has been introduced, Equine General Practice (Ambulatory), for those practices who provide “on the road” care only without offering premises for stabling.
The scheme is run by the veterinary profession. As an owner, you can enjoy peace of mind that the practice attending your horse’s veterinary needs — whether this is for a routine check-up or something more serious — has been assessed and accredited by its peers as providing the highest standards of care.
To become accredited, practices volunteer for rigorous assessment every four years. They must meet a range of minimum standards including hygiene, 24-hour emergency cover, staff training, certain types of equipment and cost estimation procedures. Practices are also subject to spot checks between assessments.
Being an accredited practice doesn’t mean that treatment will be more expensive than at any other practice. It simply demonstrates the commitment of the practice to care for its clients and patients, and its openness to being inspected.
The scheme enables practices to apply for additional awards in certain areas. These include client, ambulatory, in-patient and diagnostic services, and team and professional responsibility.
The new awards focus on behaviours and other factors that have an impact upon the veterinary care of animals, the practice team and the experience of clients. Following a similar format to that used by Ofsted in the inspection of schools, they offer the possibility of achieving “good” or “outstanding” designations — allowing greater differentiation between accredited practices.
They are purposefully hard to achieve, providing evidence of a practice’s commitment to providing the best possible service to its patients and clients.
Taking your pick
The PSS is proving to be a great way to advance the veterinary profession, by motivating practices to work towards higher standards of care for their patients, clients and staff.
There are many different factors to consider, however, when choosing a practice to provide veterinary care for your horse, whether for routine care or something more focused for specific health issues.
Just because a practice is not part of the PSS does not mean that it is worse than one that is. There are some excellent practices that have decided not to be involved. If the practice is accredited under the scheme, however, you can be sure that it has undergone rigorous assessment and has met specific criteria confirming high standards of care.
Ref Horse & Hound; 25 May 2017