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UK Watchdog Investigates the Veterinary Industry

14 Mar 2023

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has found the regulatory framework to be outdated and aims to get it working effectively


Photo by Juan Figueroa


As many will know, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has proposed a formal investigation into the veterinary market after finding ‘multiple concerns’. The review of the sector was launched in September, 2023 and a Call For Information (CFI) was issued as part of it. The UK veterinary market is worth over £2 billion and two thirds of people in the UK now own a pet, a number that has increased significantly since Covid-19. The rising cost of living has prompted a fee inspection, as the CMA is concerned that pet owners might be overpaying for medicines or prescriptions. The hope is to get the market functioning as efficiently as possible to help both professionals and pet owners.


The review has prompted over 56,000 responses, including 45,000 from the public and 11,000 from those working in the industry. Concerns from vets included the pressure that professionals face, including acute staff shortages and the effect this has on workers. In turn, pet owners have found it difficult to access basic information, like price lists and treatment options. They may also be unaware of whether their practice is an independent local practice or part of a chain. In 2013, independent practices accounted for 89% of the UK veterinary industry, a number that fell to 45% by 2021, so having this information to hand could impact pet owners’ choices.


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,’ said Sarah Cardell, Chief Executive of the CMA. '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. But 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.’


As is often the case, part of the response to the investigation has resulted in vets experiencing abusive behaviour. British Veterinary Association (BVA) President, Dr Anna Judson said:


It’s really important not to pre-empt the outcome of the CMA’s investigation. When the CMA launched its initial review, vet teams in practice found themselves on the end of really unpleasant, often abusive behaviour, which is unacceptable. It’s important to remember that vets enter this high-pressure profession out of genuine care for animals and will always prioritise their health and welfare. We will continue to engage constructively with the CMA by responding to this latest consultation and will continue to play a leadership role in driving positive change for vets

and their clients.


Dr Judson also expressed her support for vets while recognising the need for regulation by the CMA.


‘Rising prices are a concern for everyone but it’s vital to recognise there is no NHS for pets. Whether they are employed by corporate or independently owned practices, vets deliver highly specialised, tailored care for the UK’s pets and the cost is a fair reflection of investment in medical equipment, supplies and medicines, and the time vet teams dedicate to the care of each patient. At the British Veterinary Association, we’re keen to see healthy competition and consumer choice and so we are already taking steps to support vet practices to be more transparent both in terms of costs and practice ownership. It’s important that clients have as wide a choice of vet practices as possible so they can find a service that best suits the needs of themselves and their animals.


The CMA has 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.


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