Vet cleared of serious professional misconduct after disciplinary hearing

A West Norfolk vet has been cleared of serious professional misconduct regarding the care she gave to two dogs following a disciplinary hearing.

Katharine Power, lead vet and managing director at Vets One group which has practices in Lynn and Downham, appeared before the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons disciplinary committee in November, as well as in February and March.

The charges against Dr Power related to alleged clinical and communications failings in respect of surgery carried out on two separate dogs on two separate occasions.

Vets One in King's Lynn. Picture: Google Maps
Vets One in King’s Lynn. Picture: Google Maps

The first related to laryngeal tieback surgery carried out on a Tibetan Terrier called Harvey in March 2018 and the second concerned oesophageal surgery carried out on a Boxer dog named Boss in October 2018.

At the outset of the hearing in November 2022, the college asked to withdraw a number of the charges, with further charges also being withdrawn after hearing from relevant witnesses.

In respect of the laryngeal surgery, Dr Power admitted that she had failed to undertake pre-operative radiographs before proceeding with the surgery, had failed to perform the surgery appropriately (in that she dissected excessive tissue and had inappropriately placed sutures), and had undertaken the surgery when it was outside her area of competence.

In relation to Boss, Dr Power also admitted to failing to provide a referral report and/or clinical records to the veterinary practice he was referred from, despite requests from the practice.

The committee, on cross-examining witnesses and hearing the evidence, including that provided by expert witnesses, found the majority of those charges that had not been withdrawn by the college or admitted by Dr Power, not proven.

However, in addition to the admitted charges, in respect of the oesophageal surgery, the committee found that Dr Power had subjected Boss to an excessive period of anaesthesia – a total of 9.5 hours.

The committee then went on to consider whether the proven charges amounted to serious professional conduct.

Counsel for the college submitted that Dr Power’s conduct breached the part of the Code of Professional Conduct relating to veterinary surgeons keeping within their area of competence and referring responsibly; and providing veterinary care that is appropriate and adequate.

In terms of aggravating factors, the college submitted that there was both actual injury to the animal, as well as actions that posed a risk of injury, that Dr Power financially benefitted from the alleged misconduct as she was paid to perform a procedure outside her competence, and that she occupied a position of increased trust and responsibility as she advertised and held herself out as a practitioner who accepted referrals and was competent to perform soft tissue surgery.

Dr Power’s counsel submitted that the charges that had been found proven amounted to clinical and administrative failings and that this was not a case of a veterinary surgeon deliberately or recklessly acting outside of their capabilities, but rather a case where a diligent and responsible veterinary surgeon had fallen short in discrete areas of her clinical practice and had reasonably believed at the time that she was competent to perform the surgery.

Noting that not every breach of the Code of Professional Conduct will necessarily amount to serious professional misconduct, the committee found that, although the conduct within the proven charges fell short of what would be reasonably expected of a veterinary surgeon, it did not fall so far short that her conduct constituted serious professional misconduct.

Paul Morris, chairing the disciplinary committee and speaking on its behalf, said: “The committee understood that it had a responsibility to consider the wider public interest, taking into account the view of a reasonable member of the public in possession of all the relevant facts and information.

“The committee considered that such a member of the public would understand that veterinary surgery is a challenging profession.

“It was of the view that such a member of the public would not expect perfection, but understand that any professional practitioner may make mistakes in the course of their practice.

“It is the judgement of this committee that the respondent’s conduct does not constitute disgraceful conduct in a professional respect.”