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Victory for the pre-purchase exam

Figures from the Veterinary Defence Society reveal that, despite the complexities, relatively few pre-purchase examinations result in negligence claims

05 November 2018, at 10:28am

The purchase of a horse or pony can appear to be a simple business transaction. This transaction may, however, involve considerable sums of money and high levels of emotion. In many situations, the purchaser may have unrealistic expectations, too. Veterinary surgeons step directly into this highly charged situation every time they perform a pre-purchase examination (PPE).

If, for whatever reason, disappointment follows, or something goes wrong, the modern consumer society dictates that someone must be to blame, and the finger is frequently pointed at the vet.

There is no other transaction where it is easier for the seller to offload all responsibility for defective goods, and it is a tribute to our profession that negligence claims are not more frequent.

This is in no small part due to the excellent design of the approved PPE Certificate, supported by BEVA, RCVS, VCI and Veterinary Ireland (2012). This certificate was most recently modified this year, when it was confirmed that a mouth examination with a speculum should not be included in the standard procedure, but that it could be included as an additional procedure.

Veterinary Defence Society (VDS) figures from 2001 to 2017 show that just over one in three equine negligence claims involve a PPE. Missed features (including those missed on radiographs) top the list at 38 percent, followed by lameness (32 percent) and claims involving sarcoids and melanomas (19 percent).

Dental claims make up less than 5 percent of equine claims. Of the dental claims, most involve ageing and issues with the incisor teeth (2.5 percent of all claims) with only 1.3 percent of all equine PPE claims involving the cheek teeth. Put another way, less than one equine PPE claim per year involves an issue with the cheek teeth.

VDS members declare that they undertake between 30,000 and 40,000 PPEs per year, thus the approximate risk of a dental claim involving cheek teeth is 1 in 35,000 which suggests it is entirely appropriate to resist widening the scope of the PPE to include a dental examination using a speculum, remembering the old maxim “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

Around one in 500 PPEs result in a negligence claim. Well over half of these claims are successfully defended by the VDS and a small percentage are settled with an ex gratia payment, with very few cases proceeding to court. So, when one considers the difficulty of the PPE, it is testament to the skill of the veterinary surgeons performing the examination combined with the excellent design of the PPE certificate that relatively few PPEs end up as negligence claims.

Well done BEVA and VDS for putting on those wonderful annual PPE courses to help ensure that the high standards remain. And well done BEVA for taking a considered look at the current certificate and ensuring it is up to date and reflective, and ticks the box to ensure that the PPE continues to be a fabulous example of the equine veterinary profession successfully serving the equine community.

Though we mustn’t be complacent, the way the PPE is handled in the UK and Ireland is first class and is most definitely a success story we can feel good about.

Jonathan Pycock is an equine claims consultant for the Veterinary Defence Society and an equine reproduction expert. He is the immediate past president of the British Equine Veterinary Association.

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