The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has confirmed that, over recent months, it has been obliged to commission an independent investigation into a series of leaks of confidential information.
This investigation has now concluded and formally reported to RCVS Council at its meeting today (September 3, 2020).
The college became aware that confidential information contained in council papers had been leaked earlier this year, after details were published in a veterinary industry magazine.
No one identified
Following the discovery, then-president Niall Connell provided a number of informal opportunities for the person leaking the information to come forward and discuss the reasons for their actions in an open and honest manner. However, no one stepped forward.
Following this, a formal complaint subsequently made by a council member triggered the complaints policy set out in the College’s Code of Conduct for Council Members and instigated the investigation.
The investigation itself was run independently of the RCVS by an external specialist consultancy and coordinated by a legal assessor.
Initially, the investigators were asked to focus on a single leak, but following a number of further leaks over ensuing months, it became necessary to significantly widen the scope and depth of the investigation.
The investigators’ report concluded that there had been several separate and deliberate leaks of confidential information by a current or former council member over an extended period.
However, the RCVS noted that as it had not been possible to identify who specifically was responsible for any or all of these leaks, and no one had themselves taken responsibility for their actions, no further action under the complaints policy of the Code of Conduct for Council Members could be taken.
At its meeting today, the RCVS Council noted the report’s conclusion that the leaks were not the result of poor understanding of college or council processes, but a deliberate decision to provide confidential information to third parties.
Nevertheless, council members agreed to review existing training requirements and mechanisms for handling confidential information, and, to explore in more detail the potential motivation of the person or people leaking the information, together with the underlying culture of council that might have influenced their behaviour.
Speaking after today’s Council meeting, RCVS president Mandisa Greene, said: “There is no denying this is a sad day for the college, and for RCVS Council in particular.
As council members of our professions’ regulatory body, we must maintain the very highest standards of probity and integrity if we are to maintain the trust and confidence of our professional colleagues.
"In the same way, we must subject ourselves to the same level of scrutiny and investigation if these values and behaviours are ever called into question.
“That someone chose to breach the trust placed in them by their peers is extremely disappointing, especially when they were given every opportunity to come forward to discuss their concerns, and avoid the College having to launch a formal investigation.
Our default position during council meetings is to hold as many discussions as possible in public session to ensure council’s decisions are as open and transparent as possible – something that we will continue to increase as much as possible.
"Like any organisation, however, there may be a small number of issues that need to be discussed in closed session – for example, those still at concept stage prior to any decision being made public or put out for consultation, or those containing personal or commercially sensitive data.
“I sincerely hope that all of us on council can learn from this unfortunate and unnecessary episode.
"We must rebuild and maintain sufficient confidence in each other, and in our processes, that, even if we disagree on certain matters, it is always best to do so in a direct, upfront and honest manner.”