Vets have a right to say no to out of hours farm calls if they have safety concerns or if, following their professional judgement, the case does not require urgent attention, under new codes of conduct launched by the Veterinary Council of Ireland (VCI), according to its CEO Niamh Muldoon.

Muldoon said that traditionally with out of hours calls from farmers, there has been an expectation that the vet, even if it is the early hours of the morning, will attend to the animal there and then.

The new code outlines a clear process by which a vet will make a judgement as to the urgency of the case.

Some 3,000 vets and 1,100 veterinary nurses are to receive hard copies of the new codes over the coming days and they will come into effect from 28 January 2022.

The new VCI codes of conduct will be shared with Ireland's vets and veterinary nurses and have been decided following consultation with relevant stakeholders.

The codes have been revised following extensive consultation with veterinary, medicine and farming stakeholders, according to Muldoon.

VCI is the independent statutory body responsible for the regulation of the practise of veterinary medicine and veterinary nursing in the public interest and in the interests of animal health and welfare.

Emergency cover

The new code states that vets must make proper provision at all times for 24-hour emergency cover for the care of animals that during normal working hours could be considered as being under their care.

“An emergency, in relation to treatment of an animal, means treatment where the animal is suffering from a condition that requires immediate action or where the failure to act would result in unnecessary suffering to the animal and includes, in appropriate circumstances, euthanasia.”


The code advises that a vet will determine whether or not a case is in fact an emergency through a professional triage and that this can take place over the phone.

It is understood the triage would involve the vet clarifying information on the farm animal’s current state.

The code says the veterinary practitioner must have sufficient information to decide that it is or is not an emergency and document the reasons for that decision.

Muldoon said that this can also apply in circumstances where the vet judges the out of ours call-out to be unsafe.

She also clarified that it would be applicable in situations where a vet is covering out of hours service for a practice owned or operated by another vet, of which they are an employee.


Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal, Muldoon said the new codes “are built around professionalism” and carry “huge relevance to all stakeholders”.

The revised code of professional conduct for veterinary practitioners consists of eight chapters of binding guidance, based on the values at the core of the veterinary professions, while the revised code of professional conduct for veterinary nurses will consist of six chapters.

The code’s values applicable to veterinary practitioners include measures to maintain public trust and confidence, aims to enhance animal health and welfare, demonstrating respect towards and communicating with clients and ensuring the responsible use of medicinal products in animals. 

One health

The codes also include an enhanced focus on one health, which is considered the interconnectivity between the health of animals, people and our environment.

Muldoon said that the public now has a greater understanding of the interconnectivity between animal, human and environmental health, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The code states that vets should hold the knowledge, skills, professional competences and attitudes necessary to successfully contribute to the one health system.


The code of professional conduct for veterinary practitioners also offers definitions of terms contained in the EU Veterinary Medicines Regulations 2019.6 to support the prudent use of animal medicines in Ireland, says Muldoon.

She said that a request to determine such definitions came from the Department of Agriculture and that the code is now timely ahead the EU-wide Veterinary Medicinal Regulation 2019/6 coming into effect on 28 January.

Muldoon said: “Our revised codes of professional conduct promote animal health and welfare, recognising the importance of the role played by the veterinary professions in public health and animal welfare for society in Ireland.”

The new codes for vets and veterinary nurses can be accessed on the VCI website.

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