You often hear the phrase “There is no NHS for pets” in the popular press and occasionally from clients or on social media. The implications of this are twofold: firstly that someone has to part with some cash for their pet’s treatment, and secondly that they have to part with it at the point of delivery. The NHS for humans is not free – we all pay tax and national insurance for it. However, some of the people who lament the lack of NHS for pets will not be paying tax and will not be net contributors to the state from which the NHS is funded. We can’t do anything about the fact that pets’ (or any other animals’) treatment has to be paid for, but we can ameliorate the payment at the point of delivery.
Several systems are already functioning. The closest thing in the public mind to the NHS for pets would be the RSPCA, PDSA and other charity hospitals. The revenue for these does not come directly from the consumer of the service, but is donated altruistically by people who probably will never use the service. This is great for those people living near such a clinic and for those who meet the eligibility criteria. If you live in a rural area or just miss out on the criteria needed to access these clinics, then they are not available to you, even if you need them. Another failing is the abuse of the system. All of us in practice know the stories of how these systems can be misused – for example the old lady (with a large family) who is on a pension and lives near a clinic who “owns” a remarkable array of pets including some pedigree breeding Frenchies and several guard dogs. You can fill in the gaps. Many of us at some point will have worked in charity clinics and seen the excellent work they do, but also heard the stories of pets that maybe shouldn’t really be treated getting in. But the fact remains, and is pertinent to the gist of this article, that they can access free at the point of delivery (POD) pet care.
Many of us at some point will have worked in charity clinics and seen the excellent work they do, but also heard the stories of pets that maybe shouldn’t really be treated getting in
Another system that almost gets there with free at POD is direct insurance claims. I won’t mention any company names but there are some we allow direct claims for and some we don’t! Readers: insert your own names of companies here. For ongoing cases they can be free at POD for the client, but there are often various excesses and co-payments to settle. Plus they do not cover routine preventative treatment.
For many years in idle moments (and I don’t get many; that is why it is “many years”!) I have been pondering whether you could run a clinic that was truly free at POD for all its clients, and available to any client who was registered. I am aware of some cooperative farm clinics and I have a friend in New Zealand who used to work in one: the farmers actually owned the practice. For most of my working life I have been in small animal practice and this is where I have been considering it.
I can see several ways of doing it. One would be a straight subscription – a monthly amount to cover the running costs of a clinic averaged out for each client. This used to be quoted as £250 per annum, but looking at some more recent data I would say £300 to £350 per client per year depending on the region would be more like it. Just divide your turnover by active clients per annum to see how much money you need to service your clients. So in theory, if you billed each client around £350 per year (which is neatly about £30 a month – less than most insurance premiums!) they would generate enough income to pay for the practice to run just as it does now. This relies on several things: mainly that you get enough clients to cover at least one vet plus staff, salary overheads, etc, and secondly that you do not get everyone with a geriatric cat, brachycephalic dog, giant-breed dog, etc joining. You need a good cohort of healthy young crossbreed dogs and cats to balance it. You could weight it for breed and age, of course.
I have been pondering whether you could run a clinic that was truly free at [point of delivery] for all its clients, and available to any client who was registered
Another system, and one I would love to try, would be in partnership with an insurer. The client pays a reduced premium to them plus an amount to you as a sort of excess waiver and to cover routine preventative treatment. The insurer then calculates the relative risk of the pet and deals with that, leaving the practice with reduced risk exposure in just paying excesses and for routine treatment. There would need to be a workaround for pre-existing conditions for new clients as you couldn’t just start with all puppies and kittens. Nice if you could!
This is something to consider and something I would be very interested to write about again if anyone has done it. If you have a free at the point of delivery clinic running, let me know on email@example.com.