• Tue. Mar 28th, 2023

Vet left dog to die alone at surgery despite advertising ’24-hour care’

Jul 8, 2019

A vet left a dog to die alone overnight despite the practice advertising that it offered '24-hour care'.

Elizabeth Law was sanctioned by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons following the death of 11 year old German Shepherd – Wolfhound cross 'Kiwi'.

The disciplinary hearing was told that Miss Law carried out a successful emergency operation on the stricken dog but that he was then left to recuperate on his own for more than seven hours overnight.

Kiwi was found dead the following morning, leaving its owners Penny and Anthony O'Callaghan devastated.

They had taken their beloved pet to Riverside Veterinary Practice in Spalding, Lincolnshire, after they feared he was suffering from an urgent stomach condition.

The O'Callaghans told the disciplinary hearing that one of the reasons they chose the practice to treat Kiwi was that it advertised itself as a 24/7 operation.

In its decision, a Royal College disciplinary panel said Miss Law – who has been a vet for nine years – had made a "serious mistake" which constituted a "serious lapse of clinical judgement".

However, the practice was cleared of dishonestly claiming it offered a 24/7 service after arguing that this simply meant vets were available to be called out at any hour, rather than that it was permanently staffed round the clock.

Project manager Mrs O'Callaghan, 41, hit out at the sanction, claiming that the Riverside practice had been 'let off the hook'.

"We have been pet owners for 20 years and we know all the right questions to ask when we sign up to a surgery," she said.

"The crucial thing is that my pets can be offered 24-hour care.

"Riverside advertised that they provide care 24/7, but Kiwi was left by himself after a major operation.

"If a vet was there looking after Kiwi, he would not have died that night, he would still be here.

"I was re-assured that everything was successful, and I slept peacefully that night – I couldn't wait to wake up and call Riverside to check on him and bring him home.

"They called me the following morning to tell me he had died overnight. I was devastated and angry.

"I was absolutely heartbroken, and I am disappointed that Riverside have been let off the hook without any serious action being taken.

"They were clearly advertising on social media and on the front of their surgery that they provide care 24/7, but this case has proven it is not true.

"It makes me very concerned that other vets offer this service but in reality it is only 24 hour response – not 24 hour treatment.

"We trusted the vets completely and left our pet in their care, and they let us down. We were lied to."

The disciplinary panel was told that the O'Callaghans took Kiwi to the Riverside practice on the evening of November 7th 2017, suspecting he was suffering from 'bloat' – a condition where the stomach fills with gas and can become bloated.

Miss Law – one of four vets at the practice – opened up the surgery to treat him and operated on him, the hearing was told, and she and a nurse made a final check on him at around 12.30 am.

"(She) felt he was stable and could remain on fluids until the following morning," the judgement – published last week – states.

"Kiwi was left alone overnight, during which time no visits or checks were made to assess and/or monitor his condition.

"He was found dead in his kennel at 7.45am the next morning and Miss Law rang the O'Callaghans to break the bad news.

"Mrs O'Callaghan asked if Kiwi had been on his own when he died, and (Miss Law) said yes," the judgement states.

"Mrs O'Callaghan was extremely upset and could not continue the call.

"Mr O'Callaghan was very upset and angry at what had occurred and asked (Miss Law) why she had left a dog alone after life threatening surgery. She said they were a small practice and they did not have the staff.

"He said that he did not care and that they advertise themselves as providing 24-hour care."

At the time of the incident, Riverside Veterinary Practise stated on their Facebook page: "24 hour care is provided at OUR practice, with OUR vets."

One expert witness, Professor John Williams, said that Miss Law's decision to leave Kiwi alone "fell below the standards of a reasonably competent veterinary surgeon," an assessment with which the panel agreed.

The panel concluded: "It was unreasonable to leave Kiwi alone overnight".

It decided that a formal reprimand against Miss Law was the best sanction as she was considered by colleagues to be an "excellent" vet who was "devoted to the welfare of animals".

The Royal College cleared Riverside owner Julia Creese of any wrongdoing surrounding the death, ruling that the practice had not advertised itself as offering 24/7 staffing.

A written statement by Mrs Creese said: "Although we do offer a 24-hour emergency service at this practice, rather than using a designated out of hours provider, we are not a hospital and don't have staff on site overnight.

"Details of the level of cover that we provide is available to read in the waiting room on our practice noticeboard.

"We did not advertise the practice to have staff on site 24 hours a day and I do not know why the O'Callaghans thought this was the case."

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