What about a National Health Service for pets?

As an item on a wish list, I would include a National Health Service for pets. I’m referring to the NHS in the UK which of course is exclusively for people but it begs the question why we can’t have something similar for companion animals. After all, we relate to companion animals as members of the family and in many homes they are more important than human companions or friends. In the spirit of an improvement in animal welfare and a long journey towards improvement in animal rights, a NHS for companion animals would be a good idea.

An NHS for Pets in the UK
An NHS for Pets in the UK. Photo: Pixabay.
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How would it work? In the UK, employees pay Class I National Insurance contributions. How much you pay depends on how much you earn and there are other factors. If you earn up to about £4,000 a month you pay 12% of salary, which is the current Class I National Insurance rate. You pay it with your income tax. Your employer takes it from your wages before you get the net amount. Your payslip shows the contribution. That’s the classic situation so why can’t people elect voluntarily to add another, say 3%, to the amount deducted from their gross pay to go into a national UK NHS pet scheme to provide healthcare for companion animals?

Of course it would have to be voluntary but I think it’s worth testing the water to see how companion animal guardians in the UK would respond. There could be a survey to find out their thoughts about it. It would amount to an insurance scheme really. It would act in a very similar way to standard private insurance but it would be an improvement on pet insurance because it will be government run and therefore there will be no profit margin built into the system. It should be cheaper! I would hope that you’d would get better value for money out of an NHS for pets compared to standard pet insurance.

A politician, on the radio, said he disagreed with it because it would result in more expensive veterinary care. I guess pet insurance does force up vet’s fees because they know they can employ the best systems they’ve got without any restrictions from the cat or dog’s owner to try and cut back the costs. But I don’t see this as a negative. Arguably it’s a positive because animals will receive better veterinary treatments.

On the downside, certainly the NHS has its failings. Personally, I am not a great fan of the NHS in the UK. Although it is treated like an untouchable duck that lays the golden egg. You simply can’t criticise it especially during the coronavirus pandemic. But if you know a bit about NHS hospitals you know that they are not what they are cracked up to be. There’s been some scandals and government run organisations are inherently bureaucratic and slightly lazy because billions of pounds is constantly flowing into it without any need to be sharp, agile, efficient and profitable. Obviously they don’t need to make a profit but they need to minimise mistakes and an inherent slightly lazy approach can result in mistakes.

Despite these misgivings or weaknesses in the NHS, there’s no doubt in my mind that companion animal welfare would be improved in Britain if there was an NHS for companion animals. My belief is that people would take up the opportunity. It would be cheaper than pet insurance. The cost of pet insurance is a massive barrier to people taking up the option. Not enough people do take out pet insurance in the UK and the reason is that they don’t see it as value for money. Unfortunately for some cat and dog owners this means that their companion animal does not receive treatment when it is needed.

Another advantage of paying for an NHS for pets in the UK is that the money to fund it comes out of employee gross pay. It is therefore relatively painless. It’s a way of life. People accept paying their national insurance contributions as a normal deduction from their pay packet. Once you have this acceptance payments are made without trouble or dissent. Once an NHS for pets is bedded in that would be the attitude.

I think it is fair to say that cats are not taken to veterinary clinics as often as dogs. This may be because cats are healthier than dogs. The more likely reason is that cats are perceived as independent and therefore they don’t communicate to their owners when they are ill. Cat owners are less aware of illness in their cat compared to dog owners. If they knew that they could take their cat to their veterinarian without making any payments (because they had paid for the treatment through National Insurance contributions) it might make them more aware of the need to provide proper healthcare. They may become more attuned to checking their cat’s health issues. This in turn would lead to better animal welfare which must be the goal of all of us who enjoy the company of animals.


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