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Alliance supports investigation into veterinary costs

For some years now those of us with pets have noticed the rising cost of veterinary care and medicines not to mention the disappearance of many independent practices. The issue of the health of UK veterinary services has now come under the scrutiny of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). Last September it undertook a market review of the veterinary sector recognising that this is a critical market for the UK’s 16 million pet owners. The review received an unprecedented response from the public and veterinary professionals and as the CMA noted “shows the strength of feeling on this issue is high and why we were right to look into this…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. 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”.

Following the market review the CMA is proposing to put their investigation onto a formal footing and has consulted on whether to make a Market Investigation Reference (MIR). A MIR would enable the CMA to deploy its full powers to investigate its concerns and to intervene directly in markets if it finds that competition is not working well, to the disadvantage of consumers. As well as compelling those under investigation to provide information, it gives the CMA access to a wide range of legally enforceable remedies, such as requiring the provision of certain information to consumers. There are five areas of concern that the CMA have identified requiring further investigation:

  1. Consumers may not be given enough information to enable them to choose the best veterinary practice or the right treatment for their needs.
  2. Concentrated local markets, in part driven by sector consolidation, may be leading to weak competition in some areas.
  3. Large, integrated veterinary groups may have incentives to act in ways which reduce choice and weaken competition.
  4. Pet owners might be overpaying for medicines or prescriptions.
  5. The regulatory framework is outdated and may no longer be fit for purpose.

The Countryside Alliance is fully supportive of the CMA’s proposals. However, we believe that any further investigation should give some consideration to the growth of the pet insurance market and any impact it may have in driving up costs and also recognise that equines are kept as pets and their care is also impacted.

We are also concerned more that the commercial pressures identified by the CMA in its initial consideration of veterinary services may have an effect on the advice veterinarians give in relation to interventions, treatments and procedures. This is an extremely sensitive area and we appreciate that while the CMA cannot investigate matters of clinical judgement, a distorted/anti-competitive market may drive interventions that are of minimal benefit to an animal especially where they are old or in a terminal condition. Our response to the consultation can be found here.

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