New corporate vet practice rules could put farm 24-hour services under threat

Changes to veterinary practice ownership rules in Ireland could see the demise of the island’s small practices and put loss-making services such as on-call work under threat, vets have warned.

Conor Geraghty, chairman of Veterinary Ireland’s ‘Large Animals Committee’ warned the new rules would pave the way for large multinational firms to poach smaller Irish businesses – something he believed would have a knock-on effect on the farming community.

Also Read: Vets: Serious concern over changes to ‘ownership of practices’ and impact on animal health

Geraghty said he had already heard of several instances in which large corporations had approached smaller firms with offers to buy them and questioned why the decision had been made to change the rules when there had been “no problems” with them previously.

Corporate vet practices

Until now the Veterinary Council of Ireland’s Code of Professional Conduct has prohibited corporate bodies from owning veterinary practices in the Republic.

However, the latest amendment to the code removes three paragraphs on this topic, Geraghty said. The rule change is effective immediately.

He explained: “This decision seems to have been made at a committee meeting on December 14. Three paragraphs were taken out and replaced with one very vague paragraph on the topic.”

‘No consultation’

“There was no consultation with veterinarians, the farming community or the public or any notice that this would happen – it was just by chance that one of our members happened to notice it.

Once large corporate bodies come on to the market they really push in, as has been seen in the UK and elsewhere. In the UK at the moment only around 4% of veterinary time is spent treating large animals, compared with 5% on rabbits.

“It’s a different market, but the concern is that in Ireland vets are already making decisions on a daily basis – on prices, the services they offer, credit and who they will offer their services to. With a large, corporate body in charge those decisions will be made by a board of directors and not someone in direct contact with the farming community.”

Loss-making services

He said many vet-owned practices often run services which are “not profitable”, such as 24-hour call-outs because they feel ethically obliged to do so.

He added that larger corporate bodies would be less inclined to run such loss-making services.

Geraghty said: “In a typical practice of three vets you’d work two nights a week and every third weekend – it costs money to keep someone on call all the time and some nights you won’t get any calls at all.

Those three vets could probably get all the work they need to done during the day so it’s not a profit-making service to have someone available every night.

“There are a lot of little jobs we do that we don’t charge for; if you’re aware of an animal needing help but you know you’re unlikely to be paid for it, we’ll still do it.

“It will mainly be farmers with emergencies and part-time farmers who will suffer. We do a lot of work at the weekend for part-time farmers but I can’t see any large corporate entity being flexible like that.”