The ‘RCVS’ stands for the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. The RCVS set the standards across England for veterinary care, both ethically and clinically. All vets must be a member of the RCVS in order to practice as a vet in England, meaning it is a very large and respected society.

The RCVS runs a ‘Practice Standards Scheme’, (PSS) which aims to improve the standard of their practice. Veterinary practices do not have to sign up to the scheme, it is voluntary. The scheme sets standards which the practice must achieve in order to gain a certain status. There are different levels within the PSS. So practices always have a scope to improve or maintain a high level of veterinary care.

What are the specific differences between all of the standards on the scheme?

For small animal practices (dog, cat, rabbit etc), there are different levels of accreditation that vet practices can apply for. These include, Core Standards, General Practice, Emergency Services Clinic, and Veterinary Hospital status. In order to gain the status, the veterinary practice in question will be assessed to ensure they meet specific requirements.

All veterinary professionals must abide by the standards set in the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Code of Professional Conduct. The RCVS Core Standards include, but are not limited to: Patient access to 24 hour emergency cover, appropriately trained staff (qualifications as well as insurance are checked), maintaining high levels of cleanliness and hygiene throughout the practice appropriately, and giving estimates for procedures and getting consent to undertake them.

General Practices

Gaining the ‘General Practice’ status means the practice encompasses everything over and above the requirements laid out in the RCVS Code of Conduct. It shows the practice has put extra effort into facilitating the needs of your pet and their welfare. As well as providing benefits for the clients and veterinary team. Some additional things an RCVS General Practice may have include: a system to monitor the outcome of all treatments, commitment to education and training, high standard cleaning and maintenance checks on equipment, a feedback policy and have access to labs for diagnostic testing.

Emergency Clinics

Gaining the ‘Small Animal Emergency Service Clinic’ (ESC) status means the practice can deal with emergency and critical care cases. This means should your pet become very ill, very quickly, these practices are prepared and ready to treat your pet immediately.

Veterinary Hospitals

The ‘Veterinary Hospital’ accreditation will be granted to those practices who meet the standards required for a ‘General Practice’. But also have the facilities to investigate and treat complex cases, reducing the likelihood to need to refer cases. For hospital standards to be met, the practice must have passed the Core and General Practice standards already. Some additional requirements for an RCVS hospital include having nursing staff on premises 24-hours and veterinary surgeons available 24 hours, making emergency critical care accessible. 

They may have protocols for monitoring clinical standards and striving to improve them put in place. They will also have specialist equipment to aid diagnostics. RCVS hospitals will have undergone many inspections and audits to improve and maintain a high standard of cleanliness and sterility.

How are the practices assessed for their standards?

Each practice who volunteers themselves to be assessed will be assigned an assessor. The assessor will thoroughly check equipment, facilities, space and may observe consultations. The assessor wants to gain as much information about the practice. And how it is run before making any formal decisions. Reviews and reports are created, providing the practice with tips on how to improve in order to reach or exceed the required standard. 

Does it benefit my pet if I take them to an RCVS Hospital?

Taking your pet to an RCVS Hospital means your pet should receive top quality care regardless of how complex the case may be. The likelihood of your pet being referred to another practice is lower because the RCVS Hospitals have the best equipment, so thorough investigations can take place. Outside normal opening hours, an RCVS Hospital can provide emergency care. And veterinary staff will be on site throughout the night. So your pet would not need to visit a different veterinary practice should they fall ill or be involved in an accident late at night. 

How do I know what standard my veterinary practice is?

Most veterinary practices will inform you of their current standard and what they are striving to achieve if you ask and those with accreditation usually display the relevant logo on their website. Please remember this scheme is voluntary and therefore, not all veterinary practices will be enrolled on the scheme.
To conclude, the RCVS has set up a scheme which helps veterinary practices strive for excellence by providing different goals to aim for in order to reach the next accreditation level. If you would like to read more about the RCVS and their standards for accessing practices, you can find the information on their website. On this website, you will be able to see the standards of different veterinary practices in your local area.