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Vets: Under the financial spotlight

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The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched a full-blown investigation into the veterinary sector, sparked by mounting concerns that pet owners are being overcharged for essential treatments. This follows the CMA’s initial review last September, which highlighted several critical issues and prompted 56,000 responses from pet owners and professionals in the veterinary industry.

Pet owners paying through the nose?

Thousands of pet owners have voiced their struggles, with many saying they’re being forced to pay extortionate prices for vet bills without always knowing the best treatment options for their beloved pets. “We’ve heard from people who are struggling to pay vet bills, potentially overpaying for medicines and don’t always know the best treatment options available to them,” said Sarah Cardell, the CMA’s chief executive.

Key concerns unveiled

The CMA’s review underscored several persistent concerns:

  • Are consumers getting the right information at the right time to make informed decisions?
  • Is the limited choice of vet businesses in some areas impacting pet owners negatively?
  • Are the profits earned by vet businesses consistent with competitive market levels?
  • Do vet businesses, particularly large integrated groups, have the incentive and ability to limit consumer choice when recommending treatments or services?
  • Is the regulatory framework outdated and preventing the market from functioning efficiently?

Sector Consolidation Under Scrutiny

More than half of the UK’s vet practices are owned by a few large companies, such as but not limited to Vets4Pets (part of Pets at Home) and Medivet, raising fears that this consolidation might be reducing consumer choice and driving up prices. “We also remain concerned about the potential impact of sector consolidation and the incentives for large, integrated vet groups to act in ways which reduce consumer choice,” Cardell added.

Regulatory Shake-Up on the Horizon?

Malcolm Morley, the British Vet Association’s senior vice president, didn’t hold back, calling the sector’s regulation “woefully out of date.” He noted, “Some of the points the CMA raises are things that we’ve been raising for a long time. The regulation of vets and veterinary practices is woefully out of date, not fit for purpose.”

Action Plan

The CMA has also provided practical tips for pet owners to help manage vet costs:

  • Don’t just go to the nearest vet; shop around as fees and services can vary.
  • Always ask if there are alternative treatment options.
  • If the treatment isn’t urgent, consider buying medication from online pharmacies or specialist pet shops.

The road ahead

An inquiry group of independent experts will lead the investigation, gathering additional evidence and scrutinizing the sector more deeply to shape necessary remedies. The first few months will be dedicated to collecting more data from a wide range of stakeholders and conducting a thorough analysis.

Potential measures the CMA might enforce include making firms provide essential information to consumers, capping prescription fees, and even breaking up large vet businesses. “The message from our vets work so far has been loud and clear – many pet owners and professionals have concerns that need further investigation,” reiterated Cardell.

Corporate response

A Pets at Home spokesperson stated, “We will continue to fully cooperate with the CMA to ensure our unique and pro-competitive business model of locally-owned vet practices is fully understood. Whilst our brand is national, our veterinary practices are led by individual entrepreneurial vets who have clinical and operational freedom and work tirelessly to always put pets’ needs first.”.

GoFido has reached out to both Pets at Home and Medivet for further comment.

In the meantime, we value your insights as dog care professionals who collectively care for hundreds of thousands of dogs that attend vets. Please take a moment to answer the following question and we will report on the results next week.

Do you think pet owners are generally overcharged for veterinary treatments?

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