Whilst we were at Congress, we had several people approach us asking about how to deal with a situation involving another member of staff, vets or members of the senior management team. Their concern was to do with serious inappropriate action or behaviour towards either themselves or animals within the care of the practice.

Also, what if it goes against your professional judgement? For example, what if you become aware that your practice principal charges clients for medicines or treatment that have not been provided? They may dispose of medications in an inappropriate fashion or health and safety may be at risk owing to a failure to follow manufacturers guidelines on use of equipment?

If you think there could be malpractice or wrongdoing happening within your workplace then you can ‘blow the whistle’ on the behaviour by making what is known as a qualifying disclosure’ to an external body as defined in the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998.

A qualifying disclosure is ‘any disclosure of information which, in the reasonable belief of the worker making the disclosure’ shows at least one ‘relevant failure’. The Act gives protection to employees, self-employed people working under a contract, agency workers, home workers and others.

The failures may be any of the following:

   a criminal offence has been, is being, or is likely to be committed

   a person has failed, is failing or is likely to fail to comply with any legal obligation

   a miscarriage of justice has happened, is happening or is likely to happen

   the health and safety of any individual has been, is being or is likely to be damaged

   damage to the environment has occurred, is occurring or is likely to occur

   information showing any of the above has been, is being or is likely to be deliberately concealed.

When making a qualifying disclosure you should, in the first instance, raise the concern using the practice’s grievance procedure. Thereafter, you may take the grievance to a regulatory body such as the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, a legal adviser, or a Government Minister.

If, however, you feel unable to raise the concern within the practice, there are other ‘prescribed’ people to whom you can make the disclosure. These range from the Health and Safety Executive to official ombudsmen.

The RCVS has the authority to deal with three types of case:

   fraudulent registration

   criminal convictions

   allegations of disgraceful professional conduct.

If you feel there may be malpractice where you work, you should, in the first instance, contact staff in the RCVS Professional Code of Conduct Department*. They will provide advice on the procedures to be followed. The RCVS is required by statute to investigate any complaint against a member which may give rise to an allegation of professional misconduct.

Protected disclosures

For your disclosure to be protected by law, you should make it to the right person and in the right way. You must:

   make the disclosure in good faith (which means with honest intent and without malice)

   reasonably believe that the information is substantially true

   reasonably believe you are making the disclosure to the right ‘prescribed person’.

If you make a qualifying disclosure in good faith to your employer – or through a process that your employer has agreed – you are protected. You should check your employment contract to see if your employer has set out a process for whistle blowing.

Dismissal or victimisation for whistle blowing

If you are an employee protected from whistle blowing and you are dismissed for complaining about malpractice at work, you can make a claim for unfair dismissal, even if you don’t have one year’s service (or two years service if you have started with the practice since April 2012).

If you have been victimised or suffered detrimental treatment – for instance, if you have been demoted or denied promotion because of blowing the whistle –   you may be able to take your case to an Employment Tribunal. Your claim would be for ‘detrimental treatment’.

If you wish to discuss any issues arising from this article, you can call the BVNA IRS Helpline on 01822 870270 or e-mail nicky@hrsupportconsultancy.co.uk


Nicky Ackerley BA(Hons)

Nicky Ackerley HR Support is owned by Nicky Ackerley who has a BA (Hons) Business Studies Degree, is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and who has been a practising HR manager for over 20 years. HR Support Consultancy has provided the BVNA's Industrial Relations Service since it began in 2002.

• VOL 27 • December 2012 • Veterinary Nursing Journal