The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) published its main concerns in the UK veterinary market following an initial review into the veterinary sector on Tuesday, March 12.

The CMA has decided that it should launch a formal market investigation focused on its provisional analysis of the issues in the sector, and is now consulting on this proposal.  

Chief executive of the CMA, Sarah Cardell said:

“Our review has identified multiple concerns with the market that we think should be investigated further. These include pet owners finding it difficult to access basic information like price lists and prescription costs.

“We are also concerned about weak competition in some areas, driven in part by sector consolidation, and the incentives for large corporate groups to act in ways which may reduce competition and choice.”

A market investigation enables the CMA to investigate its concerns and to intervene directly in markets if it finds that competition is not working well.

This gives the CMA access to a wide range of legal remedies, such as mandating the provision of certain information to consumers, imposing maximum prescription fees and ordering the sale of a business.

The review of the sector launched in September 2023 brought in 56,000 responses, including 45,000 from the general public and 11,000 responses from those working in the vet industry.

The CMA key is concerned of the following:

  • One fifth of respondents were not informed of prices before their pet had surgery/treatment;
  • Around 25% of pet owners did not know that getting a prescription filled elsewhere was an option, meaning they are missing out on potential savings;
  • The RCVS has put in place a Practice Standards Scheme. Only 69% of eligible practices have signed up to this voluntary scheme;
  • Some vet practices may make up to a quarter of their income selling medicines;
  • 10% of vet practices belonged to large corporate groups in 2013, but that share is now 60%.

Another main concern that the CMA has, is that large groups have the ability to keep provision of these related services within the group, leading to reduced choice, higher prices and lower quality.

The CMA also stated that the large corporate groups may concentrate on providing higher cost treatments, meaning that consumers are less able to access lower cost treatments.

The current regulatory regime “contributes” to concerns by restricting veterinary practices’ ability to source cheaper medicines online.

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), has limited control of how prices are communicated or if there is clarity about ownership of vet practices.

The CMA believes that outcomes for consumers could be improved if regulatory requirements of best practice could be enforced more effectively.