UK vets could face cap on prescription fees as CMA launches investigation into vet market

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The investigation will explore whether vet businesses are operating competitively and fairly

The Competition and Markets Authority (CAM) have launched a full investigation into the UK veterinary sector which could see a cap on vet prescription fees.

The investigation follows an inquiry in September which received 56,000 responses to a call from pet owners and those working in the vet industry.

The inquiry highlight concerns about high fees, limited consumer information, and market consolidation reducing choice for pet owners.

Some of the potential solutions that have been suggested are to make compulsory the provision of certain information to consumers, impose maximum prescription fees and order the sale or disposal of a business or assets – all of which are legally enforceable.

The CMA can also make recommendations to government including suggesting changes to the regulatory framework.

The investigation will be carried out by a group of independent experts and chaired by Martin Coleman. He commented: “The vet services market is worth an estimated £5 billion a year and provides a necessary service to pet owners so it’s right that we fully investigate competition concerns – this matters to businesses, veterinary professionals and, crucially, the 16 million households in the UK who have pets.”

Photo: CMA/iStockPhoto: CMA/iStock
Photo: CMA/iStock | iStock

Sarah Cardell, Chief Executive of the CMA, said: “The message from our vets work so far has been loud and clear – many pet owners and professionals have concerns that need further investigation.

“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. 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.

“In March we proposed that a formal market investigation was the best route to fully explore these concerns and, if appropriate, take direct action to address them. That proposal has been overwhelmingly endorsed through our consultation.

“While we’re aware of acute staff shortages and difficult working conditions for vets, we consider a formal market investigation is essential to ensure good outcomes for the millions of pet owners in the UK as well as professionals working in the sector. The independent inquiry group will now take this investigation forward and, in the meantime, we’re publishing some tips to help pet owners better navigate vet services.”

Top vet tips for pet owners

1. Look further than the closest vet

Fees and services can differ between practices so it’s best to compare which vet is best for your before choosing the closest vet based on convenience.

2. Ask if there are other treatment options

It’s important to understand why a vet recommends a particular treatment or test, but if you are unsure about a treatment, or worried about the cost, speak to your vet.

3. Consider buying the medication elsewhere if it not urgent

If the medication is non-urgent, it can be cheaper to buy it elsewhere such as at an online pharmacy or a specialist pet shop even when you include you pet’s prescription fee.

How to get help with vet fees

There are some animal charities that that can support owners struggling with vet bills by either covering some of the cost or by offering reduced costs through their own clinics.

In most cases, you'll need to fit specific criteria to use the charities.

PDSA

The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) provides low-cost and free vet care to the sick and injured pets of people in need. To be eligible you must be in receipt of benefits and live in the postcode catchment area of a PDSA Pet Hospital or Pet Care Scheme practice.

Cat’s Protection

Cat’s Protection offer free and low-cost (£10) neutering schemes throughout the UK.

Dog Trust

Dogs Trust offer to cover 100% of the cost of preventative vet treatments, as well as any essential and emergency treatment if you are experiencing or are at risk of homelessness.

Whilst the majority of the RSPCA’s funding goes to rescuing animals who have been treated cruelly, their local branches and hospitals can sometimes help with vet bills.

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