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A letter in The Daily Telegraph claims:

Vets are allowed legally to treat humans although doctors cannot treat animals. In my experience, vets offer the efficiency, pragmatism, charm, humour and common sense so often lacking in the NHS.

Are vets legally allowed to treat humans?

  • 2
    Well not sure that a comment on an interweb site of a tabloid newspaper counts as a notable claim. – Chad Nov 28 '12 at 14:44
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    The Daily Telegraph is a broadsheet with an average daily circulation of 634,113 (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Daily_Telegraph). It's a published letter rather than a comment. – Tom77 Nov 28 '12 at 14:52
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    TV Tropes claims "Many states' 'Good Samaritan' laws protect dentists, vets, and so forth from being sued for failing to save someone they're forced to treat in an emergency, in the absence of a more appropriately-trained physician." – Andrew Grimm Nov 28 '12 at 20:18
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    I think to get a good answer you would have to pick a legal jurisdiction, or specify jurisdictions of interest. In this case, perhaps the UK may be appropriate. – Brian M. Hunt Nov 28 '12 at 20:46
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    @Andrew: Those Good Samaritan laws likely protect ANYONE who is in that situation, not just vets, etc. I don't think that is what the letter-writer was referring to. – Oddthinking Nov 28 '12 at 23:43
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"Vets are allowed legally to treat humans although doctors cannot treat animals"

Treatment as "Practise Medicine"

For the purposes of this answer I will interpret "treat humans" as "practise medicine" as I believe the latter is the relevant term in the UK which corresponds most closely with the intent of the question.

Qualifications for Vets

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons say

veterinary surgeons have the initials ‘MRCVS’ or ‘FRCVS’ after their names.

This stands for member, or fellow, of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), and indicates their registration with the RCVS, the regulatory body for veterinary surgeons in the UK.

The title ‘veterinary surgeon’ is protected in law: only those who are registered with the RCVS can use the title.

Meaning of "Practise medicine"

The UK General Medical Council says

The licence to practise gives a doctor the legal authority to undertake certain activities, for example prescribing and signing statutory certificates, which the law restricts to doctors registered with a licence to practise.

Who can practice medicine in the UK

The UK General Medical Council says

Before you can practise medicine in the UK you must be both registered and hold a licence to practise with the GMC.

Conclusion

It follows that possession of MRCVS or FRCVS is insufficient to practise medicine on humans in the UK.

Other forms of treatment

The above definition of "Practise medicine" is quite narrow. There are other things doctors do which most people might consider falling into the practise of medicine or medical treatment of humans

The Wikipedia article on the GMC contains the following quote from a 2007 book titled "Medicine, patients and the law" by Emma Cave and Margaret Brazier:

The GMC maintains a register of medical practitioners. However, no law expressly prohibits any unregistered or unqualified person from practicing most types of medicine or even surgery. A criminal offence is committed only when such a person deliberately and falsely represents himself as being a registered practitioner or as having a medical qualification. The rationale of the criminal law is that people should be free to opt for any form of advice or treatment, however bizarre

I don't have access to this book and cannot comment on the sources used to justify this claim, my conclusion assumes the above is correct.

Conclusion

There's no special exemption for vets.

Anybody can provide medical treatment for humans in the UK so long as they don't prescribe, don't sign certain statutory forms, don't falsely represent themselves as qualified doctors of medicine and don't falsely claim to be licensed.

Can Doctors treat animals?

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons says

Only registered members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons may practise veterinary surgery. ...
A number of exceptions apply ...
anyone administering emergency first aid to save life or relieve pain or suffering

Overall conclusion

Anyone, including Doctors, can treat animals in emergencies (subject to important provisos)

Anyone, including Vets, can treat humans (with some important restrictions)

  • I've just found the Medical Act 1983 on the GMC's website, looks promising but I haven't had a chance to read it yet - gmc-uk.org/about/legislation/medical_act.asp – Tom77 Nov 29 '12 at 17:55
  • @Tom77: The only reference I found to Vet in there was in Section 7 "Enactments repealed". – RedGrittyBrick Nov 29 '12 at 19:02

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