Costs of non-equality - Veterinary Practice
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Costs of non-equality

The profession hasn’t, in the main, adapted well to such a widening of choice for consumers, has tried bravely to become a retailer of appropriate products but is doing so with one hand tied behind its professional back.

ONE wonders what it is in us that makes the salacious so irresistible? After all the revelations about News International, the final edition of News of the World almost doubled its normal sales from 2.6 million to 4.5 million copies.

Was that because the nation mourned the untimely passing of a legend or did people think it would somehow have rarity value and therefore some chance of selling off a mint copy for a huge profit at a later stage?

Did everyone forget that the editorial staff had been complicit in a bungee jump of moral standards to hitherto unknown depths with the phone hacking revelations concerning murdered children and casualties from terrorist atrocities or were people so jaundiced that they felt that this iconic newspaper was being made a scapegoat for the sins of a multitude of other journalists?

I suppose we will never know but few of us are convinced that planet Murdoch will have acted honourably in any manner.

Many of us suspect that, by the time this edition of Veterinary Practice goes to print, The Sun on Sunday will have appeared to take the place of its erstwhile sibling as it seems that planet Murdoch had already registered the domain name two weeks before the News of the World fell on its sword – or so the other papers gleefully informed us.

Profit more important than a moral compass

Several years ago, Piers Morgan was interviewed on TV, while still editor of The Sun, and said with remarkable candour that his job was not to report the news but to sell newspapers. Clearly, profit is acceptably more important than a moral compass.

Such honest candour was, and remains to this day, the only thing he has ever said or done which earned the respect of our household but it does make a misnomer of the title “newspaper”.

If patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel (Samuel Johnson), heaven help us when something more important occurs.

Somehow, the whole debacle leaves a longer lasting sour taste because it indicates a bigger slide away from propriety than most of us had believed to be the case.

Not that journalists do dirty tricks by the dead of night or that some policemen allegedly take a large bung quite regularly to sell information, cover up evidence or choose not to investigate their own, but because we, collectively, now accept this to be the norm, shrug our solders and mutter beneath our breath without a scintilla of belief that we can, in our democracy, do anything about it.

Just like the MPs’ expenses scandal, we wearily accept that the establishment plays by a different set of rules and hunker down to wait for it all to blow over.

Unlike the Italians, who expect little or nothing of their politicians, we still get excitable for a brief moment before reality kicks back in so it will blow over, just as it always does.

In the process, however, we will have accepted another denigration of what we see as a required minimum standard of behaviour.

When this happens, time after time, we become desensitised to the specific issues and, more worryingly, to use the psychologists’ meaning of the term, we decrease any abnormal levels of fear in a person of a given situation either in reality or in our imagination. In short, we cease to care about it.

One of the cornerstones of European law is the necessity for a level playing field, an insistence on all players having the same opportunities – possibly regardless of any other external factors or influences.

Many of us remember when the Government became interested in our fees and charges, as well as in our operating margins, and concluded that some of what we did each day could be opened up to provide a wider choice for consumers.

Brussels has more than its fair share of corruption

Such altruism might be laudable if it were not emanating from Brussels which has more than its fair share of corruption and if it were not an overly simplistic ideal to put into practice.

For very good reasons, saddlers, pet stores, groomers, teeth raspers and purveyors of mobile ultrasound services cannot perform surgery on an animal but can all sell preventive healthcare products.

Conversely, while veterinary practices can restore the bent and broken among our animals to full working order, most of us have neither the skill sets, the training, the available space nor the drive and motivation to be competitive in selling these products in competition with professional retailers.

One suspects that Baroness Kingsmill, when deputy chair of the Competition Commission, did this profession a significant disservice in recommending a widening of choice for consumers of veterinary products and skills, as part of the development of equality legislation in the UK.

In our brave new world of ticking the boxes instead of applying common sense, the Competition Commission’s approach to reviewing the public’s ability to source veterinary services and products will have pleased the Government of the time and its European drivers but failed to require the profession to think through where this might lead.

Blind adherence to a political ideal

It similarly failed to utilise its own observations and learnings from other instances where equality legislation had significantly altered other professions and institutions to forewarn and prepare the profession for the major changes which would emanate from its directive for change.

That’s not corruption but, in its blind adherence to a political ideal without consideration for its effect on a staid and possibly naïve profession, one could construe that as approaching professional negligence on their part, something which, as an employment lawyer, Baroness Kingsmill might well understand.

The end result is that the profession hasn’t, in the main, adapted well to such a widening of choice for consumers, has tried bravely to become a retailer of appropriate products but is doing so with one hand tied behind its professional back.

To be a professional should mean something. It shouldn’t be something as ephemeral as celebrity that blows with the wind of fashion and the whim of the consumer. When practitioners are, quite rightly, required to set and maintain a certain standard in behaviour and in our product offering, it is nigh on impossible to combine this with other retailing skills in an attempt not just to please all the people all of the time, but also to generate an appropriate level of profit to meet the costs of maintaining and developing such a market offering.

What we see now is a situation where many practices are struggling financially but still attempting to be all things to all people.

Even if we wanted to, we cannot duck and dive as politicians, journalists or even, as we are led to believe, some guardians of law and order seem to do. While the Competition Commission can land on a certain spot, pronounce its findings, require changes to be enshrined in legislation and then swoop off to land somewhere else, professions like ours do not have the freedom to do the same.

When Baroness Kingsmill ascribes her political attitudes, then and throughout her career, to an “innate sense of fairness”, as she does in her interview with Chris Kelsey of the Western Mail on 8th June this year, some of us feel that, a decade or so later, her innate sense of fairness has left small animal veterinarians with a business model which no longer works properly and with an urgent need to regain our own business compass in a rapidly changing world.

The responsibility to sort this out is clearly our own but there are hidden costs in non-equality

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