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Pet owners may be overpaying for medicines, watchdog warns

12 Mar 2024 3 minute read
Image by 12019 from Pixabay

UK vet groups could be forced to cap prescription fees or sell off parts of their business after the competition watchdog warned that pet owners may be overpaying for medicines.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it is launching a formal market investigation after an initial review of the vets market raised “multiple concerns”.

Among the issues, it found consumers may not be given basic information like price lists and prescription costs, and are not always informed of the cost of treatment before agreeing to it.

It means they may be overpaying for medicines and prescriptions, the CMA said.

Weak competition

It also identified concerns about weak competition in some areas, due to concentrated local markets and incentives for large corporate groups to act in ways which may reduce choice for consumers.

About 60% of vet practices now belong to large groups, up from 10% a decade ago, with large corporate groups continuing to look for ways to expand.

The six large corporate groups in the UK are CVS, IVC, Linnaeus, Medivet, Pets at Home and VetPartners, the regulator said.

Shares in top-listed vet groups tumbled following the announcement, with CVS falling by more than a fifth, and Pets at Home down by about 5%.

Opening a formal investigation means the CMA has powers to intervene directly and enforce change in the industry.

This could include ensuring that consumers get easy access to information about pricing and treatment options, or imposing maximum prescription fees.

It could also mean ordering large vet groups to sell off parts of their business or assets in order to improve choice and ensure that local vet practices can compete over services and price.

Value for money

The review was launched in September amid concerns that pet owners are not getting value for money, and that many independent vet practices have been snapped up by bigger chains in recent years.

There were about 56,000 responses to a call for information from both the public and veterinary professionals.

CMA chief executive Sarah Cardell said: “We launched our review of the veterinary sector last September because this is a critical market for the UK’s 16 million pet owners.

“The unprecedented response we received from the public and veterinary professionals shows the strength of feeling on this issue is high and why we were right to look into this.

“We have heard concerns from those working in the sector about the pressures they face, including acute staff shortages, and the impact this has on individual professionals.

“But our review has identified multiple concerns with the market that we think should be investigated further.

“Given these strong indications of potential concern, it is time to put our work on a formal footing.”


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