Service reduction worries over veterinary ownership developments

Recent changes to the Codes of Professional Conduct relating to the ownership of veterinary practices has lead to service reduction worries in the industry.

Veterinary Ireland’s Conor Geraghty has criticised what he described as the lack of a consultation period with stakeholders about the rule changes recently confirmed by the Veterinary Council of Ireland.

Also Read: Veterinary Council confirms rule changes to ownership of practices

Geraghty was part of a delegation that met with senior officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine this week to discuss the changes.

A statement from the Veterinary Council of Ireland confirmed that it had reviewed ownership of veterinary practices last year, following queries received from stakeholders.

“The council took legal advice and it is of the considered opinion that there is no prohibition on a non-registered person, non-registered persons or a body corporate owning a veterinary business including a veterinary practice – providing the practice of veterinary medicine, as defined by section 53 of the Veterinary Practice 2005, as amended, is carried out at all times by a registered person,” the statement explained.

Lack of consultation

Commenting on this, Geraghty said: “We would have expected, in a decision so serious, that there should have been consultation.”

Individual veterinary practitioners in recent years sought clarification from the Veterinary Council on the matter and were reportedly directed to get their own legal advice.

“They would not clarify the matter; our own legal advice then told us that the contract had to be between the vet and the public, and could not hide behind limited liability.”

Geraghty – who has a veterinary practice in Co. Galway – explained that the only place they could look to for comparison on the situation was the UK, which was a completely different landscape.

However, there was no doubt that the out-of-hours service to farmers had diminished; the situation there is one of larger practices with less vets covering larger areas, he added.

“By definition, that reduces services. The Irish farmer is used to a high level of service.

In the model that we have at the moment, the vets make all the decisions – on the levels of service; the number of vets that will be on duty; what the response times are going to be; who gets services; and what stage you will withdraw services if you are not being paid. Generally, Irish vets give a lot of credit.

All the issues are decided by local vets that know their clients and have a relationship with them, he said.

In a situation where a UK corporate is running the business, the decisions will be made by the people who own the business – not the vet, Geraghty warned.

‘Real concerns’

“The other very real concern we have is that, under the changes, the people that own the businesses would not be vets and the Veterinary Council would have no jurisdiction over those people. You could only hold the employee, who is in a master-servant role, to account,” he added.

The changes, Geraghty said, have the potential to have far-reaching implications.

By removing four paragraphs from the code of conduct and replacing them with one, you are left with a lot of anomalies. The changes require extensive consultation, looking at potential pitfalls and loopholes.

Veterinary Ireland’s legal team has also sought clarification on five specific points; but, has not yet received a reply from the Veterinary Council.

“We have asked for a meeting with the minister, and we want a consultation with all stakeholders,” Geraghty said.