The Disciplinary Committee of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has postponed judgment on sanction for 12 months in the case of a Hampshire veterinary surgeon found guilty of serious professional misconduct for cumulative failures to provide adequate professional care, and insufficient regard for animal welfare whilst treating a dog.
At a hearing which concluded on Thursday (19 November 2010), Peter Ardle MacMahon MRCVS faced a six-part charge after working as a locum for Vets Now at North End in Portsmouth where, on the night of 14/15 July 2009, he treated Wilfred, a Cocker Spaniel who had ingested broken glass along with raw mince.
The Committee found that, having decided that surgery was an appropriate treatment, Mr MacMahon had not removed the glass identified on a radiograph. Nor had he even superficially searched the stomach contents he had evacuated to check that a large piece of glass he had previously identified on the radiograph had been removed. He had also not taken adequate steps to prevent contamination of Wilfred's abdominal cavity prior to the incision to the stomach.
Mr MacMahon admitted he knew there had been considerable spillage of stomach contents into Wilfred's abdomen. The Committee found that, with this knowledge, for Mr MacMahon to use only 250ml of fluid to lavage the abdomen was inadequate. This contributed to the Spaniel developing chemical peritonitis which might have developed into septic peritonitis but for a second operation the next morning, after the dog had been returned to the care of his usual veterinary practice. The Committee also expressed concern that Mr MacMahon had failed to effectively communicate the abdominal contamination to Wilfred's usual vets when he was handed back into their care.
Taken as individual allegations, these would not, in the opinion of the Committee, constitute serious professional misconduct. However, the Committee was of the view that, taken cumulatively, the charges was proved, and therefore the treatment given to Wilfred, fell far short of the standard to be expected in the profession.
When considering mitigating and aggravating factors, the Committee accepted that Mr MacMahon and the veterinary nurse assisting him were unfamiliar with the premises in which they were working, resulting in a difficulty in locating important equipment, and there were also multiple urgent cases during the evening the operation took place. The Committee also noted that 17 months had passed since the operation, and no further complaints against Mr MacMahon had been received by the RCVS.
The Committee further took into account that Mr MacMahon had little recent experience, having returned to practising veterinary medicine in January 2009, following almost ten years spent outside the veterinary profession. During this hiatus he undertook no continuing professional development (CPD), and completed only a five-week period of supervised practice prior to re-entering the profession.
"The Respondent placed himself in this situation: he knew that he had been out of practice for ten years, had not done any formal CPD during that time and chose to accept an appointment to work as a locum in a sole-charge out-of-hours emergency clinic," said Mrs Caroline Freedman, Chairman of the Disciplinary Committee. "A foremost aggravating factor is that animal welfare was adversely affected. A non-critical patient was placed at risk by the Respondent's failures."
The Committee reiterated that the purpose of sanctions was not to be punitive, but to protect animal welfare, to maintain public confidence in the profession and to maintain professional standards. "A postponement of judgment, with suitable undertakings from the Respondent, is the correct course of action," said Mrs Freedman. Mr MacMahon has subsequently signed undertakings relating to CPD in both surgical and medical disciplines, and the Committee has postponed for 12 months its judgment as to any further sanction.
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