Review of S'pore veterinary sector to consider a professional body to regulate practice

It is part of a wider review by the AVS and the SVA to raise professionalism across the pet sector. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The authorities are exploring ideas to advance the standards and practices for the veterinary sector, including the possible establishment of a professional body to regulate practice.

This is part of a wider review by the Animal and Veterinary Service (AVS) and the Singapore Veterinary Association (SVA) to raise professionalism across the pet sector, including for boarders and breeders, said Minister of State for National Development Tan Kiat How on Wednesday (March 2).

The authorities have been engaging various stakeholders as part of this review, including on penalties, and consultations should conclude by the end of this year, Mr Tan told Parliament.

He was responding to Workers' Party MP Leon Perera (Aljunied GRC), who asked about complaints pertaining to veterinarians over the past three years, enforcement actions taken and how long investigations take.

Mr Perera also asked how members of the veterinary Complaint Evaluation Committee are selected and whether the Ministry of National Development (MND) will consider forming a professional board, similar to the Singapore Medical Council, to regulate veterinary practice.

Mr Tan said that over the past three years, AVS - a cluster of the National Parks Board (NParks) - received a total of 65 complaints about veterinarians, with 15 cases in 2019, 25 cases in 2020 and 25 cases last year.

Of these cases, 10 veterinarians were issued warnings and one was issued a compound fine. None were suspended or had their licences revoked.

Investigations can take 12 months or longer, said Mr Tan, as AVS needs time to gather evidence - including detailed medical records and accounts from all parties - to make a thorough assessment. In complex cases, AVS also seeks input from veterinary practitioners with the relevant expertise.

Such veterinary complaints may also be handed to the Complaint Evaluation Committee for further assessment. The committee, appointed by AVS, comprises AVS veterinarians, practising veterinarians and non-affiliated legal professionals.

Mr Tan said vets here are licensed and regulated by the AVS, and are required to comply with the Code of Ethics for Veterinarians, which sets out the expected professional standards of conduct. AVS investigates complaints on professional misconduct or negligence.

Regarding the possible set-up of a professional body to regulate veterinary practice, he said MND is consulting vets, vet paraprofessionals and vet service users, and will share more details when ready.

He added that this is part of the comprehensive review of the pet sector that is under way.

The ongoing review aims to raise standards and address gaps in the pet sector, including for boarders, breeders, trainers, veterinarians, animal welfare groups and pet owners. MND has been engaging stakeholders on issues such as improving dog rehoming and adoption processes, as well as raising standards of pet boarders and breeders. 

"The intent is to bring different stakeholders together to understand the issues, understand each other's perspectives and come to a common consensus on how we are to move together with a view of the welfare of pets at the centre of what we do," Mr Tan said.

AVS has said that all vets and clinics in Singapore are licensed and regulated by AVS under the Animals and Birds Act, and that it inspects clinics to ensure that they comply with licensing conditions.

It said in January this year that it has been studying the need for a professional body to improve professional standards for the sector and had engaged those in the industry since early last year.

Mr Tan said that, as part of the review, NParks will also be considering changes such as strengthening penalties for those who abandon their pets and making it mandatory to microchip cats.

In response to a question from Mr Perera on Tuesday (March 1) on the review of penalties for pet abandonment, he said: “We are looking at the various regimes, regulations, guidelines, best practices, and engaging various stakeholders... we’re reviewing the Animals and Birds Act and also looking at the kind of penalty frameworks that are in place.

“So certainly this is one area that we’ll consider as part of the review, and we hope to do so in the coming months and hopefully by this year.”

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