In a hearing held between 4 and 12 May, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) disciplinary committee found Nicola Burrows guilty of serious professional misconduct in respect of all 11 charges against her, stating that her conduct “could be characterised as deplorable”.
The first charge against Cardiff-based vet Dr Burrows alleged that she had, in November 2017, “allowed or caused” her horse to be re-registered at the Cardiff equine practice where she worked under a different name, and had failed to “consolidate and cross-reference this new record with the previous one”.
The second charge alleged that between November 2017 and the following March, she failed to record details of her horse’s history of nosebleeds, and investigations into this.
The third to ninth charges concern communications with Dr Burrows’ insurer, NFU Mutual, in which she failed to disclose her horse’s full clinical history and “knowingly gave false statements to the effect that the horse’s condition of [nosebleeds] had started more recently than it actually had”. These charges also include asking an admin colleague in the practice to, unknowingly, provide false information to the insurance company.
The 10th charge alleged that Dr Burrows asked a vet colleague to provide incorrect and/or dishonest information to the insurers in relation to an endoscopy on her horse in late 2017, and the 11th alleged that in relation to all previous charges, Dr Burrows had acted dishonestly.
Dr Burrows admitted charges two to nine and 11 at the outset of the hearing, and disgraceful conduct in relation to them, but denied she had allowed the creation of a new record for her horse, saying she did not know how to do this on the practice system and that she had been abroad at the time. She also denied the conversation with her vet colleague, which was the basis of charge 10, and said her horse was scoped after her insurance policy started, in January 2018, rather than the previous November, which is when her colleague remembered doing it.
Mr Bradly, representing the RCVS, said Dr Burrows was “not a truthful witness”, who “had told a number of lies to further her interests”. He reminded the committee that her actions were concealed for some months and intended to result in financial gain.
The committee found all charges proven and found Dr Burrows guilty of disgraceful conduct in a professional respect.
The horse was put down in October 2018.
Disciplinary committee chairman Cerys Jones said: “The committee noted that, in the event, no actual harm had been occasioned to any animal or person. There had been an attempt at, but no actual, financial gain. The committee had not been informed of any previous regulatory findings against Dr Burrows.
“In addition, Dr Burrows had made some, limited, admissions to the college in her responses to it and has admitted a number of the charges, including her dishonesty, before the committee. Dr Burrows has apologised for that to which she admitted and in the committee’s view has displayed a limited degree of insight.”
Before the decision on sanctions, Dr Burrows “acknowledged that she had let the profession down, multiple breaches of the code, and highlighted that her actions had prejudiced the delicate relationship between the public and the profession and had tarnished the reputation of the profession”.
She asked the committee for the opportunity for a second chance, saying she had started her own vet practice, and “honesty and integrity were now integral to her practice”.
The committee heard character witnesses and testimonials, from Dr Burrows’ clients and colleagues, “attesting to her integrity and capabilities as a veterinary surgeon”.
“Dr Burrows’ counsel also highlighted that at the time of the misconduct, she was young and relatively new to veterinary practice and had been going through a difficult time, both professionally and personally,” an RCVS spokesman said.
But the committee decided removal from the register was the “most appropriate and proportionate sanction”.
Ms Jones said: “In the view of the committee, honesty in a veterinary surgeon is a fundamental professional issue, and that is the case regardless of age and experience. The public, other professionals and insurers all at times rely on the word of a professional veterinary surgeon to honestly attest to matters of importance. All need to be able to trust the veterinary surgeon. Any departure from a standard of honesty undermines public confidence in the profession.
A vet who was found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud has been struck off for his conviction and a
“In the committee’s determination, Dr Burrows had shown a repeated disregard for the principle of honesty on a number of occasions. Moreover, the committee had found that Dr Burrows had caused or allowed the preparation of documentation concealing the full history of her horse and attempted to involve another professional in the matter.
“The committee determined that Dr Burrows had put her own interests ahead of those of the public and undermined the trust that underpins the relationship with insurers.”
Dr Burrows has 28 days from being informed of the outcome to appeal. The removal from the register is indefinite, but she is entitled to apply to rejoin some 10 months after her removal.
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