Published On: Tue, Mar 12th, 2024

Vet groups could be forced to cap prescription fees, warns watchdog | Personal Finance | Finance

Pet owners could be paying too much for their furry friends’ medicines, a watchdog has warned.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is launching an official investigation into the vet market after an initial review 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.

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

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 percent of vet practices now belong to large groups, up from 10 percent 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 five percent.

Opening a formal investigation means the CMA has powers to intervene directly and enforce change in the industry. The CMA might make it easier for pet owners to find out about prices and choices for treatments, or set a limit on how much vets can charge for medicines.

They could also tell big vet companies to sell some parts of their business. This would help smaller vet shops compete better on services and prices.

The review started in September because people were worried that pet owners weren’t getting good deals, and lots of small vet places had been bought by bigger ones.

Around 56,000 people and vets shared their thoughts with the CMA.

CMA boss 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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