The Competition and Markets Authority has completed its review of the veterinary sector, concluding that there are five main areas of concern and proposing a formal Market Investigation, subject to a 4 week consultation. 

The CMA review generated 11,000 responses from people working in the veterinary industry, including 1/5th of the country's vets and nurses. There were a further 45,000 responses from the general public. 

Issues identified by the review were that:

  • Consumers are not being given enough information choose the best practice or the right treatments. The CMA highlighted that 80% of practices don't display any pricing information on their website, that consumers are often not informed about the cost of diagnosis or treatment before agreeing to it, and the lack of transparency over the ownership of corporate practices.
  • In some areas of the country, corporatisation may be killing off competition. 
  • Large groups which have invested in expensive, advanced equipment may be incentivised to offer more sophisticated, higher cost treatments, making consumers less able to access simpler lower cost treatments. They have also bought related businesses, such as referral centres, diagnostic labs, crematoria and out of hours care, providing an incentive to provide these services in-house to the detriment of choice and competition. 
  • Pet owners may be paying too much for medicines: around 25% of pet owners are unaware they can have prescriptions fulfilled elsewhere, and there is little incentive for practices to advise owners that they have a choice. Furthermore, under the current regulatory framework, practices are often unable to source medicines at prices that can compete in the marketplace.
  • Under the current framework, the RCVS regulates at practitioner level, meaning it has limited leverage over the commercial and consumer-facing aspects of veterinary business, such as how prices are communicated or whether there is transparency over practice ownership.

So far, the RCVS, the BVNA and IVC have all responded to the announcement, the RCVS welcoming the call for modernising the regulatory framework and the BVNA likewise (taking the opportunity to remind everyone that this would also be the moment to protect the 'veterinary nurse' title).

Meanwhile, IVC said that for its part, it has always tried to ensure its prices are competitive and that customers are informed of costs before treatment, adding that it believes price increases in the sector have been driven predominantly by the shortage of vets, necessary improvements to pay and conditions for veterinary professionals and inflation.  

The CMA has now launched a 4-week consultation to seek views from the sector on the proposal to launch a market investigation.

The consultation closes on 11 April 2023 at which point it will consider the responses received and a decision will be made on how to proceed.

PS: Whilst you're here, take a moment to see our latest job opportunities for vets.