The RCVS Disciplinary Committee has directed the removal of a Cardiff-based veterinary surgeon from the Register for creating an inaccurate clinical history for her own horse and then dishonestly attempting to make insurance claim for the treatment of her horse.
The hearing for Nicola Burrows took place at a venue in Bristol between Tuesday 4 and Wednesday 12 May 2021 and involved 11 charges against her.
Charge 1 alleged that on or around 18 November 2017 she had allowed or caused her horse to be re-registered at the Cardiff equine practice where she worked under a different patient name, and had failed to consolidate and cross-reference this new record with the previous one.
Charge 2 alleged that between 1 November 2017 and 13 March 2018 she failed to make entries into the practice’s clinical records for her horse in terms of its history of epistaxis (nose bleeds) and the investigations into this condition.
Charges 3 to 9 relate to various telephone conversations and email exchanges Dr Burrows had with employees of insurance company NFU Mutual between 2 January and 14 June 2018 in which she failed to disclose the horse’s full clinical history and knowingly gave false statements to the effect that the horse’s condition of epistaxis had started more recently than it actually had. These charges also include asking an administrative colleague in the practice to, unknowingly, provide the insurance company with false information.
Charge 10 alleged that Dr Burrows asked a veterinary surgeon colleague to provide incorrect and/or dishonest information to the insurance company in relation to the date of an endoscopy that had been performed on her horse in or around November or December 2017.
The final charge (Charge 11) alleged that, in regard to all previous charges, Dr Burrows had acted dishonestly.
At the outset of the hearing Dr Burrows admitted to Charges 2 to 9, as well as charge 11 in so far as it related to these charges, but denied that she had: allowed the creation of a new record for her horse under a different name for the purposes of concealing its clinical history or that she had attempted to induce a veterinary surgeon colleague to provide false information about the treatment of her horse.
Having considered evidence in relation to Charges 1 and 10, including from the colleague asked to provide misleading information, who the Committee found was a truthful and reliable witness, the Committee found these, as well as Charge 11, proven.
“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,” Cerys Jones, Disciplinary Committee Chair
Next the Committee considered whether the charges, both individually and cumulatively, amounted to serious professional misconduct. In doing so the Committee considered the pre-meditated nature of Dr Burrows’ conduct in setting up the second record for her horse with the intention of benefitting financially by providing false information. Likewise, the Committee considered that Dr Burrows had abused her professional position by asking her colleague who was a practice administrator to, unknowingly, provide false information to the insurance company on her behalf and in attempting to induce a veterinary surgeon colleague to lie on her behalf.
The Committee found her guilty of serious professional misconduct in respect of all 11 charges and stated that her conduct could be characterised as deplorable.
Cerys Jones, chairing the Committee and speaking on its behalf, 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.”
Having determined serious professional misconduct, the Committee then went on to consider the appropriate sanction for Dr Burrows. Ahead of the decision she made representations to the Committee in which she 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 that she had started her own veterinary practice now and that honesty and integrity were now integral to her practice.
The Committee also heard several character witnesses as well as testimonials from both professional colleagues and clients 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.
“In the Committee’s determination, Dr Burrows had shown a repeated disregard for the principle of honesty on a number of occasions when dealing with the insurance claim in her telephone calls. 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,” Cerys Jones.
Ultimately, however, the Committee decided that removal from the Register was the most appropriate and proportionate sanction.
Cerys Jones, speaking on behalf of the Committee, 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.
“In the Committee’s determination, Dr Burrows had shown a repeated disregard for the principle of honesty on a number of occasions when dealing with the insurance claim in her telephone calls. 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 had found that Dr Burrows’ dishonesty had extended over approximately five months, and she had had several opportunities to resile from it. However, it took until [a colleague] raised the issue with Dr Burrows before she took steps to end the claim.
“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.”
She added: “In the Committee’s determination, the repeated dishonesty in the case in all the circumstances could not be met other than by directing that Dr Burrows’ registration be removed from the Register.”
Dr Burrows has 28 days from being informed of the outcome of the hearing to appeal the Committee’s decision.
Please note: this news story is intended to be a summary of the case to assist with understanding the hearing and the Committee’s decision. The full published findings of the case can be found on our Disciplinary Hearing webpage.