Veterinary Council changes cause controversy

A number of vets around the country have expressed serious reservations about changes by the Veterinary Council of Ireland to the code of professional conduct for veterinary practitioners.

Erica Borge – who is a partner in Ceithre Cos Vet Clinic in Tulla, east Clare – said she had a number of concerns about the changes. “There is an exodus of farmers from the west of Ireland and if you are selling a practice, it has to have business potential.

While the small animal side of mixed practice has expanded hugely over the last couple of decades, large animal business has declined – especially with the loss of brucellosis testing.

“I have had accountants recently evaluating the practice, and was told that goodwill has reduced in value significantly,” she added.

Erica said it was unlikely the clients in an area such as east Clare could sustain the increased prices likely to be introduced by big corporates – which, she contended, would push diagnostics in small animals aggressively.

“From an ethical point of view, in our practice, we look after every animal. With a corporate takeover, it is likely that the approach would be far more businesslike and that animals would suffer where clients don’t have pet insurance.”

Increased prices to farmers would not necessarily result in higher salaries to vets, she said. She fears the change in rules will reduce scope for career progression for vets, and add to the current crisis in hiring staff.

“My biggest worry currently is hiring staff. On the plus side, maybe the big companies coming in would do massive marketing exercises and attract young vets to stay in the country. Maybe a fault with the existing approach is that practices haven’t marketed themselves to new graduates, the majority of whom emigrate,” she said.

Vivienne Phelan, a final year veterinary student from Co. Laois, who plans to work in a mixed practice when she graduates, also expressed concern. “Changes are coming down the tracks in the way veterinary practices are owned and managed in Ireland.

“Progress cannot happen without change and it is natural for a profession to develop over time.

Vivienne Phelan

“With corporations taking over ownership of practices as opposed to vets, however, the possibility exists that the focus will be shifting to the bottom line and away from patient care and animal welfare.”

Veterinary surgeons have a duty of care to patients but corporations do not have the same obligation, she contended.

“My worry would be that in an effort to rationalise costs and improve efficiency, corners may be cut which could adversely impact patient outcomes and client satisfaction.

“Cows don’t stop calving at 6:00pm, and I am concerned that farm animal out-of-hours work will not be facilitated to the same extent as it is currently, due to the work being uneconomical,” said Vivienne, who is from Stradbally, and is involved with Portlaoise Macra na Feirme.

There is generally great trust built up between farmers and vets and it is vital this trust isn’t jeopardised for the sake of business interests.

“On the other hand, with the growth of larger practices, working in Ireland could become more attractive for new graduates due to improved working conditions, increased support and training, and UK-style graduate programmes,” Vivienne said.