Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Mark Bowen - A new era of veterinary politics?

For years, the profession has complained that the RCVS does not listen to its members, that council members were not representative and yet voting numbers in the RCVS elections have been low for years, although now improving. BVA and its specialist divisions, including BEVA, have been the route of communication, holding them to account. The First Rate Regulator initiative calls for it, amongst other things, to enhance engagement and communication with the profession and for it to be seen as a modern and relevant regulator. 

Recently the RCVS announced its plans for the middle tier; advanced practitioners. This is a welcome innovation, recognising a range of post graduate qualifications including certificate exams. There are factors that many are still unhappy about; the £110 price tag for the title and the requirement for old style certificate holders to complete A module CPD. This is particularly galling to some since there is still a perception that old style certificates were more rigorous. I don't believe this is fair, and the inclusion of some of these 'soft skills' does not decrease the rigorous clinical components in the C modules. Candidates work just as hard, if not harder for these qualifications and we should avoid devaluing their efforts. 

A second aspect of the proposal is to remove most post-nominals from the register. This has caused considerable consternation in the profession. This proposal would mean that only a registrable degree would be listed. All certificates, masters (including the MA awarded at Cambridge), doctorates and diplomas would be replaced by the listing as advanced or specialist practitioner. The idea is to simplify public understanding and mirrors what is done by the General Medical Council. An online petition generated over  1200 signatures, while only around 300 had responded to the initial consultation in 2011. Why did so few respond to the working party, and so many respond to a petition? Have we become more engaged with veterinary politics, or were the proposals inaccessible to the members? The obvious response is that they were clearly accessible to all, details were in the RCVS news and widely publicised online. Everyone could read them, but it is evident that very few did.  Accessibility is not just about availability.

I suspect, as so often is the case, that size is everything. We are all busy, few will prioritise a 33 page document that has no clear executive summary, especially with a title of veterinary specialisation; at the time of the report there were around 2500 certificates passed, yet only around 300 RCVS specialists. Its title suggested it was not relevant to the majority. Deep within this document was the question Do you agree that there is a need to simplify the range of qualification titles and postnominal letters that are shown against veterinary surgeons’ names in the RCVS Register? BEVA responded on your behalf and as a result the proposal to only indicate broad areas of work (equine practice) were changed and the advanced practitioner status will now indicate specific areas of work (equine internal medicine, equine surgery, equine reproduction, equine practice). The removal of post nominals from the register remained. 

So what made so many respond to a petition? Why are the numbers of signatories more than half the number of certificate holders (there are less certificate holders than there are certificates passed as some have multiples)? It is clearly all about methods of communication; news of this petition spread by social media, by online forums and via email. Short messages, easily digestible, that asked for people to respond to a single question. All that was required was signing a petition, although many have also left comments. Size was everything!

The world has changed, the internet bombards us with information. It has made us good at digesting small bits of information, and shunning long blocks of text. Twitter and text messages limit us to 140 characters, we have grown use to this. Many of us are disinterested in emails that are longer than one screen, irrespective of the device! Short IS sweet. The RCVS need to wake up to this new reality and be more concise in its communications. If they want engagement, then they need to develop ways to encourage this in a way that is relevant to the 21st century. If they don't they are going to be faced with a great many more 11th hour petitions and resentful members. 

Many of us were surprised by the response of the college, to review this proposal, to respond to its members! The president even took to Twitter to share the news and engage in debate. Is this a new era in listening from council? Are they living up to the aspiration of 'first rate regulator'? Their response did suggest that the profession has 'misunderstood' the proposals, the same word was used in response to the last petition about out of hours provision. I hope that they have not misunderstood the feeling from the profession on this issue. We DO object to paying £110/year to be listed as advanced practitioners, when listing a certificate has cost nothing, but the biggest objection is to these qualifications being removed from the register. In the words of Jesse J 'Its not about the money.' If the outcome of the RCVS review in June is to simply reduce the costs of the list they will demonstrate that nothing has changed in terms of their ability to respond to the membership. If they review the whole proposal they will show that we really are entering a new era of dialogue and engagement. 

What was interesting in this online debate was the lack of involvement from the BVA. No comments, no tweets, nothing. While BEVA helped spread details of the petition, BVA clearly showed no interest. They did create an entry in their community pages, but this was the day after the RCVS announced their review. It never made it to the Vet Record. This is an organisation that is meant to represent the profession, who appeared to not notice until the RCVS issued a press release. They need to be careful, if the RCVS are going to engage directly with the membership then the BVAs role as conduit for the profession to lobby the RCVS will be lost. People may start asking what us the point of the BVA.....