Staffing issues ranked ahead of Covid-19 as the main challenge facing veterinary practices in 2020, according to a new report.

The report, compiled by accountancy and advisory firm HLB Sheehan Quinn, surveyed veterinary practice owners and employees around the country.

27% of respondents said that staffing issues – including out-of-hours work; recruitment; retention and remuneration – were the biggest challenge for veterinary practices, while 13% said that the Covid-19 pandemic presented the biggest challenge.

However, the two issues may not be completely separate; staffing difficulties – particularly high stress levels and workloads – were contributed to by a higher demand for services, for witch the pandemic is identified as a cause.

Ranking just below Covid-19, 12% of respondents said that work-life balance was the biggest issue, while 8% said that animal medicines and antimicrobial resistance were the main challenges.

51% of respondents were from mixed practices (companion animals and large animals) while 41% were from companion animal-only practices and 8% from large animal-only practices.

Despite this, 8% of total respondents said that “large animal practice challenges” were the main issue for them.

The same figure reported that credit control, profitability and costs were their primary concerns, while 7% were mainly concerned about regulation.

5% of respondents noted that the presence of corporate entities in the sector was the main challenge. 12% noted “other” unidentified challenges.

Reduction in large animal-only practices

One of the most striking figures in the survey is the reduction in large animal-only practices compared to previous years of the HLB survey.

While the number of mixed practices have been fairly steady (51% of respondents last year, 46% in 2019 and 52% in 2018), the number of large animal-only practices has reduced from 21% of respondents in 2018; to 14% in 2019; to just 8% last year.

Meanwhile, the number of companion-only animal practices has increased from 27% in 2018; to 40% in 2019; to 41% last year.

Respondents working in exclusively large animal practices highlight a variety of challenges, ranging from recruiting graduates; to falling numbers of farms for herd health work.

Consultation fees

Just over half of survey respondents (52%) charge €35 to €45 for an initial consultation, while around 30% charge between €45 and €55.

4% charge over €55, while 13% charge less than €35. 1% of respondents said they charged a figure less than €35.

Some respondents reported occasional difficulties in getting paid.