The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is opening a review of how veterinary services are bought and sold amid concerns that pet owners may not be getting a good deal or receiving the information they need to make good choices.
The CMA has launched a review looking at consumer experiences and business practices in the provision of veterinary services for household pets in the UK. It will explore how well the market, worth over £2 billion in the UK, is working for pet owners including whether they are receiving the information they need at the right time to get appropriate treatment for their pets.
The CMA wants to hear from pet owners and people who work in the industry.
Almost two-thirds of households in the UK own a pet, with the number of pet owners having increased significantly during the Covid-19 pandemic. The CMA is concerned that pet owners may not find it easy to access the information they need about prices and treatment options to make good choices about which vet to use and which services to purchase. Households are under strain from the rising cost of living and it is important that pet owners get value for money from their vets – but figures suggest that the cost of vet services has risen faster than the rate of inflation, which is something that the CMA will be looking into as part of its review.
The ownership of vet practices has also changed in recent years – independent practices accounted for 89 percent of the UK veterinary industry in 2013, which fell to approximately 45 percent by 2021. In some cases, a single company may own hundreds of practices and it may be unclear to people whether their vet is part of a large group.
People may also be unaware if their vet is part of a group which owns other vet practices in their area or that the services which are being sold to them (such as diagnostic tests or treatments at a specialist animal hospital) are provided by that group. This could impact pet owners’ choices and reduce the incentives of local vet practices to compete.
The CMA is keen to hear more about pet owners’ and vet practitioners’ experiences of:
- Pricing of services, including whether pet owners were aware of how much a treatment would cost, and how they pay for it (whether they pay themselves or via insurance)
- How prescriptions and medication for pets are arranged and sold
- Choosing a vet surgery and whether people are aware that their vet may be part of a larger chain which might also own other surgeries in the area
- Using out-of-hours and emergency vet services where options might be limited
Sarah Cardell, chief executive of the CMA, said: “Caring for an ill pet can create real financial pressure, particularly alongside other cost of living concerns. It’s really important that people get clear information and pricing to help them make the right choices.
“There has been a lot of consolidation in the vet industry in recent years, so now is the right time to take a look at how the market is working.
“When a pet is unwell, they often need urgent treatment, which means that pet owners may not shop around for the best deal, like they do with other services. This means they may not have the relevant information to make informed decisions at what can be a distressing time. We want to hear from pet owners and people who work in the sector about their experiences.”
The CMA would like to hear from pet owners, veterinary surgeons, veterinary nurses, practice managers and veterinary businesses as part of this work. To get in touch please visit the case page.
The CMA will provide a further update on this review in early 2024, outlining the issues it has identified and its proposed next steps.