Vets accused of cruel price-gouging in the UK

The fees charged by British veterinarians today have become incredibly exorbitant. It will be a big worry for companion animal caregivers. It’ll negatively impact animal welfare as pet owners avoid vet visits.

Rapidly increasing prices is substantially because independent veterinarians have been bought up by big corporations, sometimes foreign corporations. For example, Medivet, was sold to CVC Capital Partners which appears to be owned by private equity and investment businesses. CVC Capital Partners is based in Luxembourg and is the largest European private equity and investment advisory firm.

There you have it, foreign investment companies are buying up independent veterinarians in the UK and allegedly price-gouging. They’ve been accused of ripping off the British public with their greed. It’s as simple as that. The accusation is that these greedy business people saw an opportunity to make a lot of money because the independent veterinarians were not, in their eyes, making enough money from their businesses.

Rapidly rising cost of veterinary care in Britain is being investigated by the Competition and Markets Authority
Rapidly rising cost of veterinary care in Britain is being investigated by the Competition and Markets Authority. Image: MikeB
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

And today, in The Times, vet big price-gouging has become big news. It is all over the paper. Pet owners in the UK have backed an enquiry into veterinary prices. Some of the reports are incredible. I touch on one or two below. The results of this outcry from British companion animal care givers is that the Competition and Markets Authority “said that the UK’s 16 million pet owners might be overpaying for medicines and vets might be denying them information about available treatments.”

Those are the words of The Times journalist, Andrew Elison. Here are some examples.

Mark De-Laurey

His cat, Freddie, was hit by a car. Freddie is five years of age. He limped into a neighbours garden. Mark collected Freddie and took him to a local veterinarian. It was just before Christmas. He was told that Freddie had broken his pelvis. Freddie spent four days in intensive care at a cost of around £500 a night. He questions the cost 🤢. Freddie was kept in a cage on an intravenous drip to get fluids and food into him. After surgery he spent three more nights in intensive care. He was told about the cost of the surgery which was between £10,000 and £12,000 for the operation and intensive care. The total bill was £14,000.

Emily Sergent

Emily sergeant is a Times journalist. Her cat, Gus, had an unknown illness. His symptoms were lethargy, a high temperature and stomach pain. The symptoms started last month. It was the first time he had become ill in eight years. She didn’t know what she would have to pay for treatment. She took him to a vet and asked what the cost would be to keep him overnight and be monitored. The answer was about £1,000! She remarked that that is more expensive than the Ritz hotel in Piccadilly, London.

She paid £238 for blood tests. The charge for sedating Gus was £150. To set up an IV drip it cost £200.60 p. And a blood test cost £283. Over the past three years she has paid £9,000 in veterinary bills for Gus’s treatment. Gus appears to be a regular ginger tabby-and-white random-bread cat. A handsome cat.

In a previous experience with vets Emily paid Medivet £6,000 to diagnose feline asthma! What’s it come to?!

Jon Nock

Jon contacted The Times. He lives in Buckinghamshire. He was surprised when his vet discharged him £842 for an x-ray on the front legs of his dog. His dog, Pepper, had been struggling with arthritis. He is frightened about the cost of medical intervention if anything can be done.

Judith Beresford

She accused veterinarians of “price-gouging” on the cost of medicines. She said that: “Meloxicam is effectively ibuprofen, [but the] vet price is £56 for 100 mL plus a £48 charge for a repeat prescription exam. It’s cruel”.

Anonymous Times reader

Another reader was “gobsmacked” when they were required to pay £172.60 p for eardrops and painkillers for her beagle’s ear infection.

It’s all private. There is no NHS veterinary service

That’s one problem in that in Britain, people are used to receiving NHS medical treatment which is free at the point of delivery. They’re not used to paying privately. This point was made by Anna Judson, president of the British Veterinary Association. She presents the alternative viewpoint and represents 19,000 veterinarians. She said that, “It’s vital to recognise that there is no NHS for pets. Vets deliver highly specialised, tailored care, and the cost is a fair reflection of investment in medical equipment, supplies and medicines and the time teams dedicate to the care.”

RELATED: A lesson about getting a veterinarian’s second opinion before surrendering your cat

Competition and Markets Authority

Sarah Cardell, chief executive of the competition authority said that its preliminary investigation of the veterinary industry had “identified multiple concerns” they will be investigated further. Basic information like price lists are not available often enough and customers potentially overpay for medicines. There is weak competition in some places partly because independent veterinarians have been bought up by corporate chains as mentioned.

They found that 80% of vets weren’t displaying basic prices online. It’s believed that some practices make 25% of their income from selling medicines.

Structure of the veterinary business in the UK

In buying up independent veterinarians, big corporations have altered the structure of veterinary services in the UK. 10 years ago, only about 10% of vets’ practices were owned by big firms. Nowadays, nearly 60% are. This reduces competition.

Corporate groups involved in providing veterinary services in the UK

CVS Group (CVS), Pets at Home (PETS), FirstGroup (FGP), Persimmon (PSN), Synthomer (SYNT), Regional Reit (RGL), Hill & Smith (HILS), TP ICAP (TCAP), Target Healthcare Reit (THRL) and TI Fluid Systems (TIFS).

Share price

The news about the CMA being involved in investigating these companies has resulted in the shares of the CVS group falling by 20% following the announcement. Other groups have fared better such as the Pets at Home with their share price dropping by a modest 3% by mid-morning on March 12, 2024.

Unprecedented level of complaints

The state of health of a business can be judged by the number of complaints it receives. Angry customers indicate a business gone wrong. Something is seriously wrong with the veterinary services business in the UK. The Competition and Markets Authority’s review prompted more than 56,000 responses, 45,000 from members of the public. They say that the response is “unprecedented”. The information comes from The Times.

America

It appears that rising costs have also occurred in America. Owners can expect to pay $1400 annually on dogs and $1200 on cats but a 2021 survey found that dog owners often spent $3470 annually on their dog. Costs have risen since that survey. There is a vet shortage. More people are taking out health insurance for their companion animals. There’s been a 22% increase. And the number of pets insured has almost doubled since 2019. Annual premiums for dogs are $640.04; for cats they are $387. These cover accident and illness. There are a wide variety of insurance policies.

Comment

Anybody adopting a dog or cat should be aware of the cost of caring for their companion animal over his or her lifetime. If you don’t take out health insurance (which is expensive) you can be faced with a £10,000 bill which most people can’t afford. They will have the option of euthanising their companion animal which will be traumatic. That’s the reality in the UK at present.

RELATED: Praising a dedicated female veterinarian who walked 3 miles through icy, snowy conditions to treat a very ill cat

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