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Catherina Cunnanehttps://www.thatsfarming.com/
Catherina Cunnane hails from a fifth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the company in 2015.
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Vet suspended for dishonesty over TB testing

The RCVS Disciplinary Committee has suspended a veterinary practitioner for three months after it found him guilty of serious professional misconduct over TB testing.

The case, involving David Chalkley, related back to TB testing on a farm in Cheltenham in March 2018 and resulted in three charges being brought against him.

Three charges 

The allegations were that the testing had not complied with the test requirements in significant respects.

The vet had nonetheless submitted the outcome as if a compliant test had been carried out.

In so, the court heard his conduct was alleged to have been “dishonest, misleading and also risked undermining government testing procedures”.

In respect of ICT tests, which the vet was engaged to undertake at the farm on March 5th, 2018 and March 8th, 2018, failed to identify some or all of the animals tested.

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On or about the same date, the vet certified that he had subjected 279 animals at the farm to the ICT test and that the results were recorded on the accompanying schedule.

The court heard he had not adequately identified some or all of the said 279 animals and had fabricated the measurements recorded for some of the said 279 animals.

Besides, between June 1st, 2011 and September 1st, 2018, the vet received payment of approximately £20,000 for ICT tests. The court heard that as result of the vet’s conduct in relation to ICT tests at the farm, he was not entitled to such payment.

At the outset of the hearing Mr Chalkley, via his counsel, admitted the first charge, namely that he had not on March 5th, 2018 and March 8th, 2018 adequately identified some of the animals.

On the third day of the hearing, during his evidence to the committee, he admitted that his certification of the ICT testing was, therefore, misleading.

He denied the rest of the charges, including that his conduct had been dishonest and that it had risked undermining government testing procedures designed to promote public health.

Discrepancies regarding tests

The committee heard that discrepancies regarding the tests that were carried out on the farm in March 2018 were originally raised by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), on whose behalf Mr Chalkley carried out ICT testing in his capacity as an Official Veterinarian.

Chalkley explained that he had taken over TB testing for the farm in 2008. He said that working conditions on the farm had been difficult throughout the whole period, from 2008 to 2018.

He stated that due to the harsh weather conditions of early 2018, TB testing was difficult. The vet said the farmer needed to complete the test by March 2018 to avoid a financial penalty.

Ian Arundale, Disciplinary Committee Chair, said: “The committee was prepared to accept that the respondent considered the risk arising from his actions as negligible.”

“Nonetheless, in the committee’s assessment a real risk existed due to the respondent’s actions and it was precisely the risk which the authorised testing procedure was designed to negate.”

Cover at Cheltenham races and limited farmhands

Chalkley explained that one of the reasons for there being limited time available for him to carry out the test within the time required by the farmer was that he was due to provide veterinary cover at the Cheltenham races the following week. He said he was unable to find anyone else to cover the tests.

Mr Chalkley also explained that during the tests on March 4th and 8th, there had been limited farmhands available to assist in processing the cattle through the tests.

In the course of being asked questions by counsel for the RCVS, Mr Chalkley accepted that he had failed to identify some 45% of the animals he had injected on March 5th, 2018.

He accepted in respect of each of the skin thickness measurements for those animals, randomly chosen a figure that he believed would be appropriate based on the breed, age and sex of the animal.

The APHA guidelines state that specific measurements should be made and recorded for each individual animal using callipers.

Acted dishonestly

Chalkley said that he could not remember seeing the “pop-up” declaration which appeared when submitting the results to the APHA online and had never read it.

He stated that he was not aware that he was making a declaration. However, he accepted that as an official veterinarian, he was confirming that he had carried out the test properly. While he agreed that he knew that the test contained inaccuracies, he did not accept that he was being dishonest when he submitted the results.

The committee found that Mr Chalkley had acted dishonestly in deliberately choosing not to take the measurements on March 5th and had instead submitted fabricated alternatives, and so risked undermining public health by failing to carry out his duties as an OV.

Also, it concluded that Mr Chalkley had been acting dishonestly, as he knew that he was submitting the test results as if they were the authentic outcome of a properly conducted test when in reality, they were no such thing.

The committee did not accept Mr Chalkley’s evidence that he was unaware of the declaration which accompanied the submission of the test outcome. The Committee, therefore, found both the first and second charges proved.

In respect of the third charge, the committee found that this was not proven noting that the RCVS had not disproved Mr Chalkley’s explanation regarding his reasons for returning the £20,000 in fees he had received for carrying out TB testing at the farm from the APHA since 2011.

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