The Disciplinary Committee of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons this week suspended from the RCVS Register for five months a Cardigan veterinary surgeon for failure to perform accurate bovine tuberculin testing and for falsely certifying the test results.
During the two-day hearing, Dewi Wyn Lewis, of Priory Veterinary Ltd., Cardigan, answered charges about inaccurate skin fold measurements and false certification relating to two visits he made as an Official Veterinarian to a farm in April 2009 to undertake tuberculin testing.
Lewis accepted that he had not carried out the tuberculin tests in the way required by Animal Health - an Executive Agency of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - and had taken short cuts to save time. However, he denied the charges, arguing that, although instructions to Official Veterinarians clearly required the use of callipers to measure the skin folds of cattle necks on day one of testing, not using callipers and using his finger and thumb did not amount to failing to measure.
He also argued (and it was accepted by the Committee) that, regarding day two of testing, there was inconsistency in Animal Health's instructions on calliper use, which in written form required using callipers for measuring every animal but in practice accepted use of callipers when a reaction could be detected by manually palpating the skin. On day two, Lewis said, he had done what Animal Health required: he had used callipers on the cattle he identified for closer examination.
The committee, however, found that by failing to use callipers on the first day, as required by Animal Health, Lewis had failed to measure the skin folds of almost all of the 104 cattle. The committee was also satisfied that, on the second day, 10-20 percent of the herd were not even touched by Lewis and the committee accepted the evidence of the three other witnesses present during the testing, which indicated that Lewis had failed to carry out careful assessment and manual palpation of every animal.
The committee then considered whether Lewis had dishonestly signed the certificate, or had signed a false certificate which he ought to have known was inaccurate. The committee noted that there were no previous disciplinary findings against Lewis, and was prepared to believe his assertion that, although he knew he had not carried out the tests in strict compliance with Animal Health's instructions, he genuinely believed his methods to be at least as accurate as measuring with callipers and did not think he was doing anything wrong or dishonest. The committee could not then be sure that Lewis had realized what he was doing was dishonest. However, the committee noted that 'false' also means "inaccurate" and, as Lewis ought to have known that as his testing methods were not adequate, he also should have known that a considerable number of measurements on the certificate were inaccurate and that the certificate itself was inaccurate.
After considering the facts of the case, the committee concluded that Lewis' actions amounted to serious professional misconduct and directed that he should be suspended from the Register for five months, after which he may return to practice. In relation to the sanction, the committee said: "In reaching this decision it is relevant that the false certification was not dishonest and that there was professional and personal mitigation put forward on behalf of Mr Lewis. The Committee has paid regard to the fact that Mr Lewis is an experienced veterinary surgeon who is highly thought of in his local area. It does not believe that there is any likelihood that he will repeat his previous conduct."
The committee also said it gave considerable weight to the fact that Lewis had had to wait an additional three-month period for the hearing because of an earlier adjournment.