Technical advice: Can I end the relationship with a client?

17 January 2021

Technical advice is our interpretation of how professional standards apply in a particular situation. It is designed to help veterinarians deal with common issues in practice, using their professional judgement to apply the advice to their own situation. It represents our best efforts at the time of publication but standards and expectations change over time and particular care should be used when reading old advice.

Can I stop providing veterinary services to a client?

Veterinarians are not obliged to continue to provide veterinary services to a client as long as the animal’s welfare is not compromised. You can therefore end their relationship with a client as long as this decision doesn’t put the animal’s immediate welfare at risk of harm.

This does not stop veterinarians from ceasing to provide services for animals that require ongoing care provided that either there is a clear plan to transfer care to a new clinic or the owner has a reasonable amount of time to find a new clinic before further care will be required (what is reasonable will depend on factors like the animal’s condition and the availability of alternative veterinary care).

The Code of Professional Conduct states:

Over and above any legal obligation that might exist, veterinarians have an ethical obligation to provide an emergency service in order to protect the welfare of animals whether those animals are under the veterinarian’s care or not.

So, even if a clinic stopped providing services to a client, they would still be expected to provide emergency care if confronted with an emergency situation. Note that emergency care does not have to be full service and could be limited to first aid (or, in some situations, euthanasia). Clinics are also entitled to refer the client to their regular (in this case, new) vet, if they have one.

An exception to the emergency care requirement would be in instances where personal safety is at risk. We recognise and expect that staff health and safety comes first.

If you decide to end the relationship with a client, we recommend notifying the client of this decision, preferably in writing.

Here is an example letter:

Dear Client

After your recent visit and conversations with our team on [add date] it has become apparent to us that our veterinarian-client relationship with you is not working effectively and, as a result, is not in the best interests of your animals’ health and welfare and not in keeping with our philosophy of providing quality care.

We have decided that, for this reason, we will no longer provide veterinary services to you.

We strongly recommend that you find a new veterinary clinic as soon as you can to ensure that your animals continue to get the best possible routine and emergency care. Once you find a new veterinary clinic, we would be happy to transfer your animals’ records to them.

We are sorry to give this bad news but we feel that this is the best outcome for everyone.

We wish you all the best for the future.

Kind regards…