The reasons are: above average increases in veterinary salaries, advances in veterinary medicine which mean practices can now offer ever more complex but expensive treatments, veterinary practices becoming more business-focused and now charging fair prices for services that they have in the past subsidised, and the cost of providing out-of-hours care.
One reason for the increase in veterinary salaries is the fact that historically veterinary surgeons and especially nurses have been relatively badly paid, although for vets that was always mitigated by the expectation of practice ownership later in their career, something which is no longer a realistic prospect for many.
Veterinary salaries have also been driven higher by the reduction in EU vets coming to work in the UK post-Brexit, although the report shows that UK trained vets and vets from the rest of the world are starting to pick up the slack.
The BVA report says it recognises that it is 'challenging' for clients to accept that rising bills are in part because of increased salaries, but they need to increase further still, pointing to the fact that NHS consultants earn around £100K per annum after four years, whilst vets earn around half that.
The submission also points to developments in veterinary medicine and technology which allow for far better standards of care, but which come at increased cost, notably in advanced imaging, dental work and laboratory services which increasingly involves specialist input.
The BVA also highlights the fact that veterinary practices have become more business savvy, especially since the 1997 decision by the RCVS to allow people and organisations other than veterinary surgeons to own practices.
With that came an influx of business skills and a prioritisation of financial considerations.
Lastly, the report points to the ongoing burden of providing out-of-hours care.
Unlike in most European countries, British vets must provide 24 hour emergency first aid and pain relief to animals, the costs of which have increased considerably as practices which used to provide the service in house at a loss, have increasingly opted to outsource it to veterinary service providers which charge commercially realistic prices.
The submission also discusses the cost of prescriptions, noting how important it is that veterinary practices are able to charge for the time and work it takes to issue a prescription, which despite an above-inflation increase, still only costs around £18.
Finally, the BVA addressed the issue of transparency over practice ownership, saying that whilst it is not aware of any data concerning whether pet owners select a practice based on its ownership, it nevertheless "supports the principle of improved transparency of ownership to help increase customer awareness and enable consumers to make an informed choice".
British Veterinary Association President Anna Judson said: “In our submission to the CMA, we have explained the complex challenges facing the profession, alongside highlighting the value of veterinary care.
"The CMA’s review will provide valuable insights, but it is essential that any recommendations are informed with full knowledge and understanding of today’s veterinary landscape and the pressures the profession is operating under, including workforce shortages.”
In all, the submission seems a detailed and fair representation of the reasons for increasing veterinary costs, although there is no mention of the impact of the increasing regulatory burden (such as the cascade), other than, ironically, the need for more regulation at a practice level, as well as of individuals.
It will be very interesting to see what the Competition and Market Authority concludes.
After all, there is no reason whatsoever why veterinary practices shouldn't charge a price which reflects the costs of providing the service, or that veterinary professionals should not be paid reasonably for their knowledge, skills and experience.
The problem is that as the industry has started to charge a commercially viable rate for an increasingly higher standard of more advanced care, so the true cost of providing that care has become clear.
Maybe the industry is in danger of trying to sell a Rolls Royce service to marketplace of people who either can't afford or don't want to spend more than the cost of a Ford Focus.
If that is true, the only logical conclusion is that either society will have to accept that pet ownership is a luxury for a smaller group of people who can afford it, or the industry will have to adapt its offering, in other words offer a lower level of cheaper care in order that more people can experience the joys of pet ownership.
The latter of those will be ideologically challenging for a profession bound by its oath that "my constant endeavour will be to ensure the health and welfare of animals committed to my care", not to mention pet owners who often want the best that the profession can offer, despite not always having the wherewithal to pay for it.
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Publishing Editor: Arlo Guthrie
Clinical Editor: Alasdair Hotston Moore MA VetMB CertSAC CertVR CertSAS FRCVS
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