Guidelines of the Veterinary Practitioners Registration Board of Victoria
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Guideline 16 - Provision of veterinary services outside normal hours

This guideline outlines the appropriate standard expected of a registered veterinary practitioner in the course of veterinary practice. It should be read in conjunction with other related guidelines.

Context to Guideline 16: Provision of veterinary services outside normal hours

The public has a general expectation that they can obtain veterinary services outside of normal business hours in emergency situations.

Neither the Board nor current statutory obligations requires a veterinary practitioner to provide veterinary services outside of normal business hours.

Factors which may influence a veterinary practitioner’s choice to provide services outside of normal business hours include:
  • whether or not a veterinary practitioner-owner-animal (VOA) relationship has been established before emergency services are requested
  • the geographical location of alternative veterinary service providers
  • an owner’s ability to transport an animal easily, and
  • the services offered by alternative veterinary practitioners.

A veterinary practitioner may recommend remotely delivered support services, such as telemedicine, to manage an owner’s after-hours enquiries.

During establishment of a VOA relationship, the Board expects veterinary practitioners to clearly communicate the availability and extent of veterinary services they provide outside of business hours.

The public generally expects that veterinary practices which provide clinical care have provision for continuing patient care. Veterinary practitioners may choose to provide this:
  1. directly to all owners
  2. directly to owners with whom they have an established VOA relationship
  3. on a case by case basis, or
  4. by facilitating redirection to an alternative veterinary service.
For animals which require continuing care which may be beyond the capability of the owner, the veterinary practitioner must clearly communicate the available options for continuing care, which may include:
  1. hospitalisation with no supervision outside of normal business hours
  2. hospitalisation with minimal or intermittent supervision outside of normal business hours
  3. hospitalisation with constant supervision outside of normal business hours
  4. a referral to another veterinary facility that provides the level of supervision outside of normal business hours required or desired by the owner of the animal, or
  5. support for the owner to take the animal home to provide the level of supervision required.

A veterinary practitioner should inform the owner of the advantages, disadvantages and costs associated with the available options.

If the veterinary facility with whom the owner has an established VOA relationship is not available when the owner decides that their animal requires attention, the owner may choose to attend a different veterinary practice. In such circumstances, the owner and/or the alternative veterinary practice may not have access to the animal’s veterinary medical record. The Board acknowledges that this situation is unavoidable.

An owner of an animal has a responsibility to:
  1. know the normal business hours of the veterinary practice/s they routinely attend
  2. know the conditions under which veterinary services would be available outside of normal business hours, and
  3. make provision for veterinary care outside of normal business hours.
Professional conduct under this guideline is demonstrated by the following:
16.1 A veterinary practice effectively communicates the normal business hours during which it offers veterinary services.
16.2 A veterinary practitioner provides information on where and how to obtain veterinary services outside normal business hours.
16.3 A veterinary practitioner effectively communicates the hours they provide veterinary services to an owner, whether or not there is an established veterinary practitioner-owner-animal relationship.
16.4 Where possible, a veterinary practitioner ensures that an arrangement for continuing care of an animal has been agreed with the animal’s owner in advance of accepting the animal for treatment and/or hospitalisation. 
Arrangements for continuing care must be agreed and recorded in the veterinary medical record whenever they are necessary to ensure the wellbeing of the animal requiring ongoing care.
16.6 Where an animal requires continuing care or hospitalisation outside normal business hours, a veterinary practitioner provides the owner with information on:
  1. the nature and level of supervision of the animal provided outside normal business hours, and
  2. the potential impact of restricted attendance on the animal’s expected course of recovery.

Related guidelines

Date of publication
In effect from 1 May 2021.

This material is current only at the time of publication and may be changed from time to time. The Board reviews and updates the Guidelines on a continuous basis to reflect changes in the science and knowledge base underpinning contemporary veterinary practice. The Board will take reasonable steps to inform the veterinary profession when such updates are released but it remains the responsibility of the individual veterinary practitioner to ensure that their knowledge and application of these Guidelines to their own practice is current.

While the Board has made every effort to ensure that the material in these Guidelines is correct in law, it shall not be liable to any veterinary practitioner or any other person or entity in relation to any claim, action or proceeding whatsoever (whether in contract, negligence or other tort or in proceedings seeking any other form of legal or equitable remedy or relief) for any inadequacy, error or mistake, or for any deficiency in the whole or any part of this document (including any updates incorporated in the document from time to time). A veterinary practitioner or any other person or entity acting upon the contents of this document acknowledges and accepts that this is the basis upon which the Board has produced these Guidelines and made them available to such person or entity.