14 November 2023
The BVNA upholds value of veterinary nursing care in joint submission to Competition and Market Authority
The British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA) has contributed to a joint submission to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) review of UK veterinary services, alongside the British Veterinary Association (BVA), British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA), Society of Practicing Veterinary Surgeons (SPVS) and the Veterinary Management Group (VMG). The submission directly addresses the CMA’s four key areas of focus; providing key contextual information about the complex landscape of the veterinary sector as a whole, plus the highly skilled care delivered by the entire veterinary team.
BVNA President, Lyndsay Hughes, commented: “The BVNA has welcomed and continues to actively engage with the CMA review. We hope that this process will provide improved transparency to clients with regards to practice ownership, structure, costs, and the choices they can make as a consumer. We also recognise that the cost-of-living crisis has impacted most people, which includes pet owners – but also members of the veterinary team personally, along with veterinary businesses.
“Especially with continued advancements in medical care, there is often disparity between client expectations and awareness of the costs that are incurred with running a veterinary practice – the specialist equipment, medication, maintenance and more. There is not an NHS for animals, so this can make it tricky for clients to understand the true cost of both human and animal healthcare. We hope that improved transparency with regards to fees will help to make this clearer. We also feel that a greater awareness of the wider issues of the CMA review – such as practice ownership, the provision of emergency care and the provision of medications – will enable clients to feel empowered to make more informed decisions over their pet’s treatment.”
The submission directly covers the four areas being investigated by the CMA review; some of the key points summarised below:
- Pricing of services
In order to function as financially sustainable, viable businesses, veterinary practices need to charge appropriately for their services. Veterinary fees cover a range of costs including salaries, equipment, medicines, premises, and other overheads which all impact the end cost to the client.
Vet and RVN salaries have traditionally been relatively low, especially when compared with other healthcare professionals. However, salaries are also a significant proportion of a veterinary practice’s expenditure and play a significant role in determining fees for practices in order for those practices to remain profitable.
Vets are required by the RCVS to be open and honest about fees for veterinary treatment, and provide clear and easy to understand information about how fees are calculated. Transparency around costs and the true value of veterinary care is key to giving clients choice and facilitating the provision of contextualised care.
- Prescriptions and medications
Vets can make a reasonable charge for written prescriptions and clients can obtain medicines from another vet or pharmacy. The growth of online pharmacies, which can supply medicines more cheaply due to lower overheads and the benefits of economies of scale, has made it increasingly important that vets charge appropriately for their professional services, which historically were subsidised by medicine sales.
- Choosing a vet and transparency of ownership
The submission supports transparency of practice ownership, whether veterinary practices are small independents or part of a large chain, so that pet owners can choose the best option for their needs and for the health and welfare of their animal.
- Out-of-hours and emergency care
Unlike much of Europe, veterinary practices in the UK are required by the RCVS to provide 24-hour emergency cover, whether directly or via another designated provider.
Historically, veterinary practices provided their own out-of-hours cover and in many cases this service was not charged for properly, if at all, requiring veterinary teams to work unreasonably long hours.
In recent years there has been a significant shift in the companion animal sector to outsourcing out-of-hours care to providers with a more commercially viable structure, to ensure that suitable veterinary care can be provided.
Lyndsay added: “We fully appreciate that it can be a highly emotive time for clients when seeking care for an unwell animal, and especially so where there are financial concerns. Members of the veterinary team are often subsequently faced with client frustrations. Whilst this is usually unintentional, these frustrations taken out on staff can have a huge impact on the team. We therefore also hope that, by improving transparency, it will lead to a better understanding by clients that in turn should alleviate some of the negative communication directed towards veterinary staff. We do not condone any form of abuse to veterinary teams, whether in-person or online.
“As the representative body for veterinary nurses in the UK, as an ongoing outcome of this investigation we will continue to raise awareness of the role of veterinary nurses amongst the general public. We’re also campaigning for the continued need for reform of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 – including to protect the ‘veterinary nurse’ title – for the health and welfare of both clients and patients.”