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Pets, passports and problems

Top tips to avoid common certification pitfalls in small animal practice

09 January 2020, at 9:00am

We are vets but also human and errors in veterinary practice usually occur when human factors collide with systems that don’t account for our limitations. We are particularly good at using our senses to absorb and process information, enabling us to problem solve in a way that even the cleverest of computers struggle to do. However, if we are asked to transcribe numbers, dates and digits or repeatedly make (even simple) mathematical calculations, we will soon start to make mistakes that, in contrast, the most basic of electronic devices can do all day long, error free. If we are then asked to perform these repetitive tasks in a busy practice environment where we are expected to multitask, the error rate inevitably increases.

Against this backdrop it is unsurprising that we see a significant number of claims and complaints against vets arising from errors in the administration of foreign pet travel, both inside and outside of the EU Pet Travel Scheme (PETS).

PETS was simplified in 2014 which might have been expected to result in a reduction in claims but as so often when there is a system change, the result was actually a spike in new cases reported, which has since settled back to a prevailing rising trend, most likely in line with an increase in the number of pets travelling abroad. Of course, we are still living under the cloud of Brexit uncertainty which keeps threatening to bring further change to the scheme and, worse still, at almost no notice. Whatever the political outcome, however, there can be little doubt that a sudden change in the rules is likely to bring a fresh set of opportunity for errors and another spike in claims.

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Notwithstanding human fallibility, there is much which can be done to mitigate the risk of stressful and time-consuming complaints. As the majority of claims arise from basic clerical errors in certification, such as the transposition of microchip numbers, incorrect dates or simply missing information, most, if not all, could be avoided by members delegating to an eagle-eyed in-house proofreader, prior to issuing paperwork.

Where possible we will always attempt to defend export claims, on the basis the regulators consider the ultimate responsibility for possessing valid paperwork rests with the owner. Our efforts, however, are often thwarted by our good-natured, ever helpful members who, perhaps inadvisably, often bend over backwards to get involved in the whole process, even when professional shippers have been instructed by the owners. In turn, the shippers appear only too keen to direct additional costs associated with any errors back onto the veterinary profession.

To avoid the hassle, embarrassment and risk of expensive claims we reiterate that unless members are fully aware of the ever changing requirements, best practice is to act more as a technician than adviser, directing the owner to the various sources of information available online, or suggest they follow the advice of a professional shipping company.

To assist, we have links to all the relevant websites for members to provide to their clients which are freely available on the Society’s website as a download, together with a pet owner leaflet setting out their own responsibilities.

Forewarned is forearmed of course, so although this is undoubtedly not an exhaustive list of the difficulties members may come across, the following summary provides the typical background to PETS claims handled by the Society in more recent times.

Clerical errors

  • Incorrect microchip numbers or dates
  • Recording the chip reading or implant date after the rabies vaccine
  • Issuing blank or incomplete passports
  • Passport completed in black ink
  • Failure to use the correct stamp (OV or practice)
  • Failure to laminate section three or enter the vet’s details correctly
  • Failure to strike out, initial or stamp alterations

Technical errors

  • Failure to follow the 30-day blood sample rule for unlisted countries
  • Failure to read the chip when issuing the passport or when the owner presents their pet for a final check
  • Rabies vaccine administered to animals under 12 weeks of age
  • Failure to keep rabies boosters up to date when other boosters are given
  • Failure to follow the manufacturer's rabies vaccine booster intervals
  • Failure to wait 21 days after rabies vaccination
  • Failure to note the presence of a second chip
  • Failure to record both microchip numbers where a chip is intermittently failing and a new chip has to be inserted
  • Failure to revaccinate a pet if the original microchip fails and a new one is needed
  • Rabies vaccine “invalidated” by concurrent use of other vaccines/medicines contrary to data sheet recommendations
  • Using unauthorised rabies vaccines

Communication errors

  • Failure to make sure that the owner knows they need a valid pet passport
  • Failure to make owners aware of the need for vet administered tapeworm treatment one to five days before re-entry to UK
  • Failure to make the owner aware of their responsibility to ensure they have valid travel documentation

And more specifically with export health certification claims outside of the EU Pet Travel Scheme

  • Failure to make the owner aware that it is their responsibility to get it right and know the rules
  • Relaxing when a shipper is involved
  • Leptospirosis vaccines given close to serology testing for dogs destined for Australia
  • Incorrect parasite product administered and/or given at the wrong time
  • Incorrect blood test requested or tested using unauthorised laboratory
  • Failure to inform an owner that for unlisted countries outside the EU they must wait three calendar months post-rabies serology test, prior to export
  • Failure to check if the importing country requires the original rabies vaccination batch number stickers to be applied to the paperwork
  • Failure to ensure all relevant paperwork for both importing and exporting countries has been seen and read prior to paperwork completion

And what will Brexit bring? Who knows, but if there are changes to the current system, members would be well advised to spend time becoming familiar with any new regulations and allow extra time for certification, as well as ensuring a “double-check” system is put in place with the practice proofreader for spotting those simple clerical errors.

Nick Perkins, BVSc, CertCHP, MRCVS, qualified in 1989 and spent 25 years in clinical practice in the South West before joining the Veterinary Defence Society as a Claims Consultant. Nick’s work involves both farm and companion animal claims.

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