Building ‘connections that count’ core for new RCVS President who took over the reins at Royal College Day 2021
The new President of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has committed to dedicating her 2021-22 presidential term to making connections that count between the RCVS and the veterinary professions, within the veterinary professions, and between the veterinary professions and other healthcare professions, as well as wider society.
Dr Kate Richards was confirmed as the 150th RCVS President at the College’s 2021 Annual General Meeting, which took place on Friday 9 July. Kate’s investiture makes her the 10th female President of the RCVS and the first to lead an all-female presidential team with Senior Vice-President Mandisa Greene and Junior Vice-President Melissa Donald.
Kate has been an elected member of RCVS Council from 2015 to 2019 and then from 2020 onwards, and brings with her a large array of professional experience having worked in clinical farm practice, in the pharmaceutical industry and as a senior civil servant in non-veterinary roles, including as Principal Private Secretary to three Secretaries of State for Scotland.
She’s a graduate from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh and during her time on RCVS Council has chaired the Standards Committee and been a member of the Legislation Working Party. She currently chairs the Preliminary Investigation Committee /Disciplinary Committee Liaison Committee and sits on the Education Committee, Registration Committee, VN Council, Primary Qualifications Subcommittee and the Environmental & Sustainability Working Party.
During her first speech as RCVS President, Kate spoke about how experiences of loneliness early in her veterinary career, when she was working in rural farm vet practice, has led her to have a deep understanding of the importance of connection, something which has been reinforced by the coronavirus pandemic.
She said: “The Covid pandemic has demonstrated the value of connections for our mental health and wellbeing. Social distancing has spotlighted in fluorescent pinks, blues and greens the need for social connections. When hungry we eat, thirsty we drink, when we feel lonely we need to connect.
“And that starts with connecting with ourselves, nurturing our minds and bodies, building our sense of self and resilience. I am passionate about initiatives including the RCVS Mind Matters Initiative and Vetlife that support our professions.
“Connections within the professions have been fundamental to my career, providing opportunities to collaborate, extend my knowledge and forge support networks. I look forward to building stronger connections with vets in the UK and abroad, including the Federation of Veterinarians in Europe. I’m so excited about the energy, new connections and networks springing up in the profession. I’ve worked in non-veterinary roles where I’ve had the opportunity to make new connections and share knowledge across professional disciplines.
“Pre-pandemic I attended a seminar on domestic violence. Speakers from social services said how hard it was to identify victims of domestic violence who were too scared to report. I informed the room about the Links Group, which works hard to raise awareness of the connection between the abuse of animals and people. Sadly, there are still silos, disconnections between well-meaning professionals. That proves to me the critical role of vets in human health and welfare by reporting animals they suspect of non-accidental injury.”
She concluded her speech (which is available to read in full at www.rcvs.org.uk/features) by saying: “I am excited about my presidential year, thankful for my connections, my iceberg of support. I’m thankful for the wise counsel of past Presidents especially Mandisa Greene and Niall Connell. My priority is to encourage Connections that Count, making sure we look after ourselves so that we can build vibrant purposeful and powerful connections across ours and allied professions for the good of animal and human health and welfare, for our communities, society and the environment.
“My aim this year? To amplify and extend the reach of the veterinary voice.”
The AGM was conducted mostly virtually with key personnel – including the Presidential Team – being present at the RCVS headquarters at Belgravia House. The occasion began with a welcome from the outgoing President Dr Mandisa Greene, including reading a message from Her Majesty the Queen as Patron of the RCVS, the approval of the minutes of last year’s AGM and the formal adoption of the Annual Report and Financial Statements 2020 (available to download at www.rcvs.org.uk/publications).
Mandisa then answered two questions that had been received in advance from members of the professions regarding the Annual Report. The first question was from Alastair Welch MRCVS and asked about using the College’s reserves to invest in leadership and staff for the RCVS Professional Conduct Department better to meet its key performance indicators for resolving complaints or moving them to the next stage. In the College’s response it acknowledged the stress that delays in investigating cases can cause for all parties and that it was seeking to invest in more staff, but added that a number of factors could contribute to delays during the concerns investigation process, including waiting for evidence and information from respondents, complaints and witnesses. The College’s response added that the RCVS was always looking to improve how it operated, which is why Council recently approved a streamlined structure for the concerns investigation process, using smaller-scale Preliminary Investigation Committees.
The second question came from James Russell, President of the British Veterinary Association, on behalf of its members and asked why the College’s financial reserves had increased, what they would be used for, and whether the College could reduce annual renewal fees as a result.
The response from the RCVS stated that the reserves policy was there to provide resilience in the event of unexpected costs or financial losses and to fund for future activities within the Strategic Plan, including funding the process of the RCVS seeking and purchasing new premises which was currently underway. The response added that the annual renewal fee for 2021-22 was not increasing nor was the RCVS seeking to increase fees for 2022-23.
The full questions and answers will be included in the full AGM minutes which will be published in due course.
RCVS Council election, appointments and retirements
Next, the AGM moved on to the results of the 2021 RCVS Council election and Dr Danny Chambers, who was re-elected for a four-year term, was welcomed back on to Council, along with newly-elected members Dr Tshidi Gardiner, Dr Colin Whiting and Dr Louise Allum, each for four-year terms.
RCVS Council also welcomed two new members appointed by the Veterinary Schools Council – Professor Timothy Parkin from the University of Bristol and Professor Christopher Proudman from the University of Surrey – to replace Liverpool’s Professor Susan Dawson, who stepped down from Council at the AGM, and Edinburgh’s Professor David Argyle, who had resigned earlier in the year. Both of their terms will run until July 2024.
Appointed RCVS Council lay members Mark Castle, Linda Ford and Judith Worthington were also confirmed for further four-year terms.
Turning to retirements, the first farewell was said to Professor Dawson, who was stepping down after nine years’ service on Council and after a year as RCVS Treasurer. In saying farewell, Mandisa praised Susan’s contribution to the Graduate Outcomes Project and particularly student mental health and wellbeing via her chairing of the Mind Matters Initiative, a role she would continue for a further year. The next retirement was David Leicester who had served on Council for three years and was noted for his service on the Standards Committee and the Recognised Veterinary Practice Subcommittee and his work for the Ethics Review Panel.
Dr Caroline Allen, who served on Council for four years, was praised for her service on the Advancement of the Professions and Standards Committees and for bringing the charity sector voice to debates and deliberations as the Chief Veterinary Officer for the RSPCA. Martin Peaty, who served for four years, was noted for his role in the reform of the Statutory Examination for Membership and chairmanship of the Statutory Examination Board, a role he will continue in for a further year.
Dr Cheryl Scudamore, with four years’ service, was praised for her involvement in the development of the soon-to-be-launched Veterinary Graduate Development Programme and the Fellowship initiative as one of those responsible for assessing applications to the learned society. She will also continue as a Vice-Chair of the Fellowship Board.
Finally, Council said farewell to Dr Christopher Tufnell after 12 years’ service, including as President for 2016/17. Mandisa highlighted some of his achievements during his time on the presidential team including the launch of the Brexit Taskforce and its development of the RCVS Brexit Principles, presiding over the inaugural Fellowship Day, his role in the Vet Futures Summit and launch of the Vet Futures Action Plan, his leadership of and contribution to the ViVet innovation project and his role in developing international links. Chris will continue to work with ViVet as Innovation Lead following his retirement from Council as well as working on the RCVS global strategy for a further year.
VN Council election, appointments and retirements
Turning next to the RCVS Veterinary Nurses Council, its chair Matthew Rendle welcomed Susan Howarth and Donna Lewis on to VN Council for three-year terms. Susan had automatically been re-elected to VN Council as the only person to have submitted a nomination for election before the original deadline of 31 January 2021, while Donna Lewis was elected to VN Council from the 14 candidates who subsequently stood for election. Regarding appointed members, Belinda Andrews-Jones, Alison Carr, and Kathy Kissick were all re-appointed for further three-year terms to July 2024.
The one VN Council retirement this year was Andrea Jeffery who had served on VN Council since its very first meeting in 2002 and was its chair from 2005 to 2009. Matthew praised Andrea’s instrumental role in developing the Code of Professional Conduct for Veterinary Nurses as well as the latest iteration of accreditation standards for veterinary nurse educators. Furthermore, he noted that she was the first veterinary nurse to serve on RCVS Council as an appointee of the University of Bristol.
Finally, Mandisa said farewell to Elizabeth Butler, who had served as inaugural chair of the RCVS Audit & Risk Committee since 2012 and has led on several key governance changes for the RCVS including the development of a corporate risk register as well as a review of auditors, the introduction of a charity governance code and changing how the College’s annual accounts are presented. Elizabeth has been succeeded as Chair of Audit & Risk Committee by Janice Shardlow.
Election of Officer Team
Following the conclusion of the AGM, there was then a short meeting of the newly-constituted RCVS Council to approve the 2021-22 Officer Team of Dr Kate Richards as RCVS President, Dr Mandisa Greene as Senior Vice-President, Dr Melissa Donald as Junior Vice-President and Dr Niall Connell as RCVS Treasurer.
RCVS Council members voted to approve the team and, following a short break, the occasion moved on to formal addresses from senior staff and the Officer Team.
In her address, RCVS Chief Executive Officer Lizzie Lockett gave an overview of the College’s achievements over the past year in relation to the 2020-24 Strategic Plan and in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. She said that the past year had been dominated in many ways by coronavirus with over 30 different temporary policy changes having to be enacted, plus regular updates to RCVS guidance in response to guidance changes in the UK and devolved administrations.
Despite all this, however, she said the College had managed not only to sustain ‘business as usual’ but go beyond that to fulfil key aspects of the Strategic Plan including the development of the VetGDP, the completion and adoption of the legislative reform proposals, ongoing work on the under care and out-of-hours review, a consultation on new education accreditation standards, the launch of a Diversity & Inclusion Group Strategy, discussion and debate with international partners on the mental health impact of coronavirus and much more.
Lizzie commented: “Finally, a huge thank you to the staff team – I usually say ‘at Belgravia House’ but of course they are scattered to the four winds at the moment! You have tackled the difficulties of these last 12 months with determination, grace, flexibility and compassion, and I am very proud of all of you. The pandemic has brought many tough challenges to tackle outside of your worklife, but you have remained dedicated to animal health and welfare throughout.
“Thank you also to our Council members who have put in a huge amount of additional hours for us this year, and to our incredibly supportive Officer Team.”
sVN Council Chair’s addres
Following Lizzie’s speech, she handed over to Matthew Rendle for his address, which looked at the significance of 2021 as veterinary nursing’s Diamond Jubilee – representing 60 years since the first RCVS-approved Auxiliary Nursing Assistant course.
He spoke about how this was likely to be a year of firsts for the profession, including the awarding of the first Certificates in Advanced Veterinary Nursing, the recruitment of the first VN Practice Standards Scheme Assessors and the first time there would be 20,000 veterinary nurses on the RCVS Register. He also spoke about the planned activities to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee including webinars, podcasts and the publication of an eBook about the history of the profession.
He said: “For my own first podcast I interviewed Jean Turner who – I don’t think she’ll mind me saying – has been a member of the profession for a good chunk of the last 60 years. She’s a real professional hero of mine and I had a fascinating conversation with her about what has changed, what hasn’t changed and what really needs to change! Speaking to Jean reminded me that we all stand on the shoulders of giants. Where we are as a profession is down to those who came before us and we owe it to them, and future generations of veterinary nurses, to make sure we are always progressing and improving.”
He stated that, with RCVS Council’s adoption of the proposals for legislative reform in June this year, the veterinary nursing profession had a bright future ahead of it with protection of title and a bolstered role in areas such as anaesthesia being included in any future legislation.
He concluded: “I still sometimes hear my veterinary nursing colleagues refer to themselves as ‘just a veterinary nurse’. Whenever I hear it said, I challenge it.
“With the Diamond Jubilee celebrations this year I think we will be making a very big challenge to that mindset, and it will remind all veterinary nurses that we are brilliant professionals, with a long and proud history and that we are a force for good in society.”
Outgoing President’s address
Before the formal investiture of Kate Richards as RCVS President for 2021-22, it was Mandisa Greene’s opportunity as the outgoing President to give her final address.
She started with an anecdote about a plaque her parents gave her stating, ‘Things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out,’ and said that this had been a guiding principle for her presidential year which, while taking place under difficult conditions, she was determined to make the best of.
She said a source of constant inspiration were new members of the veterinary and veterinary nursing professions and the veterinary teams who continued to work for animal health and welfare in difficult conditions, and she gave her condolences to all those members of the professions who may have lost loved ones due to the pandemic.
She said: “Standing before you now, I recall former Presidents in my position at the end of their year reflecting on the work they completed. One thing I have realised through my activities this year and through seeing how hard the RCVS has been working to fulfil the new Strategic Plan, despite all the challenges of the pandemic, is that the work is never complete. We must never stop trying to improve what we do and how we do it – and that goes for us as veterinary professionals as well as the RCVS as our regulator. Change is often likened to a marathon, it takes time but with the desire and consistent dedication and commitment to taking small but positive steps we will eventually see a big difference.
“My vision for this year was to prioritise with renewed intention both diversity and the celebration of primary care professionals. Much has happened in that regard, but it does not stop with the end of my term. We started our primary care project work through the Advancement of the Professions Committee with the aim of this project to champion general practitioner professionals, recognising the immense contribution that our general practitioners make to animal health and welfare and how they, as the members of the professions the public most often come into contact with, are the frontline ambassadors for the brilliance of what we do as veterinary professionals.”
Mandisa also said her involvement in talks and presentations with school-age children from a range of backgrounds during her year as President made her realise that a lack of diversity within the veterinary professions was not inevitable.
She added: “It gives me hope for our future, but it has also confirmed a long-held view of mine that the lack of diversity in our professions is not solely due to a lack of desire to join the professions. Something happens somewhere along the way to alter the perception of what might be possible for some people. The diversity and inclusion strategy launched this year is aiming to discover and address some of these issues, along with providing greater support for current veterinary professionals from ethnic or religious minorities or from the LGBTQ+ community.”
New Officer Team
After thanking her friends and family, Mandisa moved on to retirements from the Officer Team starting with Susan Dawson who has served as RCVS Treasurer for 2020-21 and whom she thanked for her role in the Covid Taskforce and making complex and difficult decisions relating to the financial impact of the pandemic both on the College and the wider profession.
She also said farewell to Niall Connell as Senior Vice-President, noting his role as a mentor for the Officer Team, his calm leadership during the early months of the pandemic, his commitment to diversity and inclusion, and his kindness and good humour. With that, Mandisa formally handed over the presidential chain of office to Kate and, in turn, received her past-President’s badge.
Kate’s first role as new President was to say a few words about her predecessor, acknowledging her historic role as the first Black woman to hold the office of RCVS President, her expert ability to chair a meeting on Zoom and guide complex and sometimes controversial discussions through Council.
Following her own address Kate drew a formal close to the 178th Annual General Meeting of the RCVS, confirming that an Honours & Awards ceremony would be taking place in September for those who received an RCVS award this year.
All of the speeches from the day can be read on the news section of the RCVS website at www.rcvs.org.uk/features