Posted: Thu 23rd May 2024

Competition watchdog presses ahead with full investigation into vets services market

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has announced the launch of a formal investigation into the UK veterinary services market.

The decision follows an initial review last September, which drew 56,000 responses from pet owners and veterinary professionals.

An inquiry group, chaired by Martin Coleman and comprising independent experts, will oversee the investigation.

The group will leverage the full extent of the CMA’s market investigation powers to gather evidence, delve deeper into concerns, and devise any necessary remedies.

The CMA’s key concerns, first outlined in March, remain unchanged.

The investigation will focus on whether consumers receive adequate information to make informed decisions, the impact of limited vet business choices in some areas, the consistency of profits with competitive market expectations, the potential for large vet groups to limit consumer choice, and whether the regulatory framework is hindering market efficiency.

Examples of potential remedies include mandating the provision of certain information to consumers, imposing maximum prescription fees and ordering the sale or disposal of a business or assets – all of which are legally enforceable.

The CMA may also recommend regulatory changes to the UK government.

Sarah Cardell, Chief Executive of the CMA, emphasised the significance of the investigation: “The message from our vets’ work so far has been loud and clear – many pet owners and professionals have concerns that need further investigation.”

She said: “We’ve heard from people who are struggling to pay vet bills, potentially overpaying for medicines and don’t always know the best treatment options available to them. We also remain concerned about the potential impact of sector consolidation and the incentives for large, integrated vet groups to act in ways which reduce consumer choice.”

“In March we proposed that a formal market investigation was the best route to fully explore these concerns and, if appropriate, take direct action to address them. That proposal has been overwhelmingly endorsed through our consultation.”

“While we’re aware of acute staff shortages and difficult working conditions for vets, we consider a formal market investigation is essential to ensure good outcomes for the millions of pet owners in the UK as well as professionals working in the sector. The independent inquiry group will now take this investigation forward and, in the meantime, we’re publishing some tips to help pet owners better navigate vet services.”

Martin Coleman, Chair of the Inquiry Group, highlighted the importance of the investigation for the £5 billion vet services market: “The vet services market is worth an estimated £5 billion a year and provides a necessary service to pet owners so it’s right that we fully investigate competition concerns – this matters to businesses, veterinary professionals and, crucially, the 16 million households in the UK who have pets.”

The initial phase of the investigation will involve gathering further evidence from various stakeholders and conducting thorough analyses. For more information, the public can visit the Veterinary services case page, which includes the consultation and decision documents detailing the background and rationale for the investigation.


Veterinary care has become unaffordable for many pet owners in Wales due to rising costs driven by corporate ownership, a Senedd committee heard this week.

RSPCA Cymru’s Caroline Allen reported that over half of Welsh pet owners worry about vet bills, with 78% seeing increased costs and 90% concerned about pet food affordability.

Corporate acquisitions have replaced locally-owned practices, leading to calls for reform of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966.

Charity representatives and pet owners highlighted significant price hikes and the impact on pet care, with warnings of worsening welfare issues and pressures on shelters.

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons noted that 41% of Welsh practices are corporatised, with regulatory limitations on practices, not just professionals.

The Senedd committee follows a petition warning of the negative consequences of corporatisation on the vet industry in Wales.

Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy, said:

“The CMA’s findings echo similar concerns of Which?’s research that found consumers face unclear pricing and being ripped off when using vet services. The regulator has been inundated with responses from pet owners, suggesting that problems could be rife in the sector, and its full market investigation is much-needed to get to the bottom of these issues.

“If the regulator confirms there are problems, then it needs to be prepared to take strong enforcement action to ensure pet owners are not being taken advantage of when they use vet services.”

The CMA has published tips for pet owners to better navigate vet services.

Key advice includes considering vets beyond the closest option, inquiring about alternative treatments, and exploring non-urgent medication purchases from other sources like online pharmacies or specialist pet shops.

The CMA’s top 3 tips for pet owners

  1. Look further than the closest vet

Many pet owners told us they choose a vet based simply on how close it is to where they live. It might feel convenient, but fees and services do differ between practices, so check to be sure it’s the right one for you.

  1. Ask if there are other treatment options

Getting a treatment that works for you and your pet is what matters most. It’s important that you understand why your vet has recommended a particular treatment or test. But if you’re not sure about a treatment, or you’re worried about the cost, speak to your vet.

  1. If it’s not urgent, consider buying the medication elsewhere

When it’s an emergency, we just want to get our pet the medication they need as quickly as possible. But if your pet needs non-urgent care, then it can be cheaper, even when you include your vet’s prescription fee, to buy the medication elsewhere – such as an online pharmacy or specialist pet shop. Around a quarter of pet owners who responded to our call for information were not aware of this.

For more information and the full tips go to the CMA’s Vet Tips.

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