Veterinary Council confirms rule changes to ownership of practices

The Veterinary Council of Ireland has confirmed changes to the Codes of Professional Conduct relating to the ownership of veterinary practices.

In a statement released to AgriLand, the council, established by the Veterinary Practice Act 2005 to regulate and manage veterinary professions, explained that it is “constantly maintaining and reviewing the codes”.

The council confirmed that last year it reviewed ownership of veterinary practices, following queries received from stakeholders.

Continuing, the statement says: “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 certificate of suitability for a veterinary premises can only be held in the name of a registered person.

This clarification to the codes was agreed by the council on December 14, 2017, and published in the Codes on the same date.

Veterinary Council of Ireland vacancies

Meanwhile, a spokesperson from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has also confirmed to AgriLand that – with effect from January 1, 2018 – there are 15 vacancies on the Veterinary Council of Ireland.

Four of these vacancies are being filled via the Public Appointments Service (PAS). In this regard, an Assessment Panel convened by PAS, is meeting next week (January 12) to review all applications for these four vacancies.

“On completion of this process, a list of the candidates deemed to meet the qualifying criteria will be forwarded to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine for selection of four for appointment.

In accordance with legislative requirements, the 11 other appointments to be made by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine comprise of six on foot of elections held by the Veterinary Council and four arising from nominations by prescribed organisations.

“The minister has approved these appointments and the process for these appointments is currently being finalised in advance of the first meeting of the Veterinary Council in 2018. One further vacancy is for direct appointment by the minister and this is also under consideration,” the spokesperson added.

‘Major Concerns’

At the moment, Veterinary Ireland is currently surveying its 1,470 members in order to ask them whether they are in favour of open incorporation of multinationals or whether they would like to remain sole traders.

The main concern regarding recent developments is that there was no consultation with stakeholders on the changes, Veterinary Ireland’s Conor Geraghty told AgriLand.

“It’s a major concern that these changes were brought in and that there was no consultation. We don’t know exactly what is being proposed until we get answers from the council. Once we get that we can decide, in conjunction with our survey, whether some are in favour of it or not.

It seems very strange that such a decision was taken without any consultation; not only with us, but no stakeholders were consulted as far as we can see.

Veterinary Ireland has arranged a meeting with senior officials from the department to discuss the issue next week.

Geraghty continued: “We’re awaiting clarification from the council; we’re awaiting the appointment of members of the council by the minister; we’re awaiting a meeting with senior officials; and we’re awaiting meeting with the minister.

“It is a very serious issue, because it changes the landscape forever.”

What could the future bring?

Geraghty went on to explain that in other countries where similar rule changes have been permitted – such as the UK – the number of practices that were bought and acquired by non-vets in the first 12 months was “staggering“.

“When they come in, they come in fairly severely and buy up lots and lots of practices. That’s the way it is; there is an immediate change in the landscape.

“We don’t know what it could do; it could benefit us for all we know – you’ll have less negative competition in the way, that is a possibility.

The other possibility is it might push some guys that are on the brink out of business. Some people will benefit from it if they want to sell, but it changes the way in which young people can buy a practice.

“Traditionally, vets have found it difficult to find finance to buy a practice – because it’s just good will, and banks don’t like lending to people on good will.

“If you have a vulture fund backing these guys and they have €60 million to spend in Ireland in two years, a young lad that wants to buy a practice in Ireland – or a young woman – is going to be at a competitive disadvantage to a huge multinational.

“Then again, if people get a very attractive offer they will be tempted to take it. But, it will certainly change the landscape here,” he concluded.