The Legal Requirements of Veterinary Physiotherapists.
The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 and Veterinary Surgery (Exemptions) Order 1962
This lays down exactly who may diagnose and treat animals. The act of examination with the aim of giving a diagnosis of an ailment or disease is an act of veterinary surgery and may only be performed by a qualified and registered veterinary surgeon. Once the diagnosis has been made, the veterinary surgeon may then pass the treatment to a suitably qualified person – in our case this will be a veterinary physiotherapist.
There are two pieces of law which are relevant to veterinary physiotherapy.
The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 Section 19 restricts the practice of veterinary surgery to registered members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons subject to a number of exceptions.
Additionally, the Veterinary Surgery (Exemptions) Order 1962 Section 4(a) states that any treatment by physiotherapy given to an animal by a person must be under the direction (i.e. prescription) of a veterinary surgeon. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has interpreted physiotherapy as any manual therapy, which also includes, but is not restricted to, osteopathy and chiropracty. This does not include aromatherapy or acupuncture.
It is the act of physiotherapy that is referred to in the 1962 Order, not that it must be carried out by a physiotherapist (which is a protected title).
As such, it is important that a veterinary physiotherapist only treats an animal after referral from a veterinary surgeon. By treatment, we mean physiotherapy targetted at an already diagnosed condition, with the purpose of curing or improving that condition.
A veterinary physiotherapist may perform a general massage etc on an animal with the owner’s permission for reasons of an approach to improve the animal’s flexibility and movement, what one may call toning-up. If an animal is presented with an injury or condition that might need attention from a veterinary surgeon, then the animal should be referred for such attention as it needs. Even in cases of doubt, expert veterinary attention should be sought. Only a veterinary surgeon can diagnose a disease or condition in an animal and prescribe the necessary treatment.
With all cases of general massage, it is considered good policy to inform the client’s usual veterinary surgeon – it gives an ideal opportunity to discuss the animal, and may even highlight a forgotten ailment from the animal’s treatment history.
Also, one must be aware that treating an animal using acupuncture, aromatherapy, homoeopathy or other complementary therapy may only be done by a veterinary surgeon who should have undergone training in these procedures. At present, it is illegal for these methods to be used by individuals who are not veterinary surgeons.
All case notes and reports must be protected as per the Data Protection Act 1998, as is true for any business dealing with client information.