If you went to hospital and were being looked after by someone who wore a 'nurse' badge but who, it later turned out, was not a registered nurse, you probably wouldn't be happy. You'd be quite right to feel like this, as this could put lives at risk if they are performing procedures that they are not qualified to carry out.
However, we know for a fact that this situation often arises with the veterinary treatment of animals because, unlike many other professions, including veterinary surgeons, the title veterinary nurse is not protected in law.
Although we have recently introduced guidance to say that vets and veterinary nurses cannot refer to an unqualified colleague as a veterinary nurse, technically, anyone may use the title - even if they don't have a day of training or a clue about how to treat an animal. To put it quite frankly - the title 'veterinary nurse' has less protection in law than 'Melton Mowbray pork pie'!
This is a real shame because, while veterinary nursing is a relatively new occupation, as a profession we are more and more coming into our own. This is demonstrated by the fact that we now have our own Code of Professional Conduct setting out our professional responsibilities and our own governing body, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Veterinary Nurses Council, which I currently chair. Long gone are the days where we are seen as 'junior' or 'wannabe' vets!
In fact, we are more akin to our counterparts in human medicine as the people who provide healthcare on the frontline day-in, day-out. Like them we care for the patients whose lives are so precious to their families. We look after them before and after surgery, we set up the theatre and equipment, we assist in surgery, we take x-rays, monitor anaesthetics and make up prescriptions. Add to that the cancer support, diabetes management, weight loss advice, arthritis care and bereavement support and then you get just a small snapshot of what we do!
So, as a veterinary nurse, and someone who is passionate about animal welfare, I believe that the fact we lack legal protection is intolerable. Not only is it potentially misleading to animal owners who take their pets to be treated in good faith by someone they believe is fully qualified, but it is also potentially damaging to the health and welfare of our beloved pets. Veterinary nurses undergo many years of extensive and intensive training to learn how to handle, treat and care for animals; this requires a complex set of skills. Having someone who is unqualified trying to, for example, insert a catheter or give an intravenous injection, could be very dangerous to your pet.
This is why I am asking animal owners out there to back the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons campaign to get the title 'veterinary nurse' protected in law - not merely for the professional pride of veterinary nurses but, more importantly, for the health and safety of our beloved animals.
So, how can you show your support? The best way is by signing our official Parliament.UK petition in which we call upon the Government and Parliament to give legal protection to the title. Already we've had well over 15,000 people sign the petition - but we need 100,000 to get the issue debated in Parliament.
We also have a webpage dedicated to the campaign, which includes an entertaining and informative animated video explaining why veterinary nurses are true professionals and deserve to have their title protected.
You can also get directly in touch with the people best placed to do something about it by downloading a template letter to your local MP asking them to back the campaign.
Finally, if you are social media savvy, you can show your support by adding our campaign Twibbon to your Facebook and Twitter profile. This allows you to tell all your friends why it's such an important cause as well. Remember to use the hashtag #VNtitle if you are tweeting.
If you are someone who loves and cares about animals please make sure to add your voice to the campaign chorus to ensure that our pets stay out of the hands of unqualified 'veterinary nurses' and receive the best care and attention possible when they are poorly.