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Pet owners fetching overpriced vet costs in ‘outdated’ system

Pet owners fetching overpriced vet costs in ‘outdated’ system
Matt Browning
Written By:
Matt Browning

The veterinary industry is set for a market investigation after a review raised concerns over pricing and competition in UK practices.

In the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA’s) report, over 80% of practices had no pricing information available online for basic services, and a fifth of pet owners were not given any details of how much tests would be before they agreed to tests.

Around a tenth of the 45,000 respondents said they were also not told how much surgery for their pet would cost and the same number were not informed about out-of-hours treatment too.

Once the cost is declared, the 16 million pet owners in the UK are susceptible to paying over the odds too, the watchdog reveals.

Vets are required to share signs in the reception or treatment rooms to inform customers about alternatives available, but there are concerns this rule isn’t being followed, so customers could miss out on saving cash.

Vet practices have ‘little incentive’ to adhere to rules

But, as vet practices rely heavily on existing through the sales of their medicines, the report notes there is “little incentive” to alert pet owners to all of their options.

Further worries in the review – which also quizzed vet professionals – related to the level of competition in the industry.

Four out of the six biggest vet practices in the UK don’t change their name when taking over an independently owned practice. So, when pet owners look for the best rates to protect, they may compare prices from the same company that owns multiple practices in the area.

It’s a prevalent issue, as almost 60% of vet practices belong to larger business groups. Of the 5,000 vet practices in the UK, six corporate groups (CVS, IVC, Linnaeus, Medivet, Pets At Home and VetPartners) have acquired 1,500 of them.

Further, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) introduced a practice standards scheme in 2005 for vet practices to adhere to.

However, only 69% of vet practices have signed up for the scheme, and the CMA called for this to be enforced more effectively.

The CMA first analysed the £2bn sector in September last year, when vet costs rose well above the rate of inflation at a time when two-thirds of UK households own a pet – which soared during the pandemic.

CMA launches investigation of vet costs and competition

Sarah Cardell, chief executive of the CMA, said: “We launched our review of the veterinary sector last September because this is a critical market for the UK’s 16 million pet owners. The unprecedented response we received from the public and veterinary professionals shows the strength of feeling on this issue is high and why we were right to look into this.

“We have heard concerns from those working in the sector about the pressures they face, including acute staff shortages, and the impact this has on individual professionals. However, our review has identified multiple concerns with the market that we think should be investigated further.

“These include pet owners finding it difficult to access basic information like price lists and prescription costs – and potentially overpaying for medicines.”

Cardell added: “We are also concerned about weak competition in some areas, driven in part by sector consolidation, and the incentives for large corporate groups to act in ways which may reduce competition and choice.

“Given these strong indications of potential concern, it is time to put our work on a formal footing. We have provisionally decided to launch a market investigation because that’s the quickest route to enable us to take direct action if needed.”