Is The Veterinary Profession Broken? | Doglistener

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Is The Veterinary Profession Broken?

What Has Happened To Our Vets?
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Introduction: I remember when the veterinary profession was a well-respected, honest, and caring profession.

We have all probably read books or watched a series about an amazing vet called James Herriot, his real name was (James Alfred Wight)

He practised as a Vet in the North East of England in a lovely market town called Thirsk, 25 miles from where I was brought up.

His books are funny, insightful; and self-deprecating. But what really made him a great vet was his love of animals and his empathy with them and the people who owned them.

He was incredibly well respected in his community, which is more than I can say for many vets I meet in my chosen profession as a dog behaviourist. Like any job or profession, there are good and bad in all of them.

It is important to say that there are some great Vets out there. They are the ones that can walk on water as far as I am concerned. Unfortunately, I believe they are now in the minority. So, what has really happened to our veterinary profession?

Legislation: In 1999 something seismic happened to the Veterinarian Profession. Tony Blair in his infinite wisdom along with John Prescott (No wisdom at all) changed the law to allow non-vets to own veterinary practices. It still requires a Vet to work in that practice but the driving force is often the owners and the returns they get from their practices.

This opened the door to venture capitalists and investors to buy into a tranche of little goldmines, and when that happens money and profit become the corporate aim. Profit should never be the main driving force in any type of medical care, be it human or animal.

We are coming up to 21 years later and many of what I would call old school vets have retired. Sadly the James Herriot’s of this world are a dying breed. Well over 45% of all the Veterinary Practices in the UK are now group and corporate-owned. These figures are 18 months out of date as the money men are busy hiding the scale of the takeovers.I would calculate that 55% are probably group owned.

The Loss of Independent Vets: My own Vet retired 2 years ago. He was my vet for 35 years. the value of his two practices and the goodwill and loyalty he created over many years of brilliant service became his pension. He was not just my vet he was also a friend.

Unfortunately, when we last said goodbye he had sold his practice to one of the big corporate groups. There was probably a bidding war and he took the highest price possible after all that was what he worked for.

Having said that he appeared embarrassed to tell me he had sold out to Medivet one of the larger and more aggressive groups available today. I am afraid that was the last time I walked into that practice.

Do You Know If Your Vet is a Corporate Group or Independent?: It is not all that obvious, my own ex-practice still goes by its old name as do many others. The long-standing clients would know that it was under new management, but to the newcomer, it is not always apparent.

The top 4 Corporate Veterinary Groups in order of the number of individual practices they own are as follows:

(1) The CVS Group, Currently the largest veterinary group

(2) Independent Vetcare

(3) Pets at Home

(4) Medivet

Though it is extremely difficult to get up to date figures as they appear hidden and guarded, it has been published in 2018 that the big 4 then owned over 30% of the total veterinary practices in the UK.

There are other very large players coming into the market such as The Mars Corporation they make Pedigree Chum and many other brands. it is probably now nearer 50% of all Vet practices that are corporately owned.

Remember that the majority of these groups are owned by Venture Capitalists whose whole reason for existence is profit. Read these depositions of employees and vets (1) CVS Group Employee Reviews (2) Disgruntled and Concerned Vets

Many of these Vets and Nurses appear to suggest that profit rather than the animal’s best interest is at the forefront of these practices.

My Other Major Concerns: I wrote an article in September 2016 called Why Are Our Dogs Dying so Young. It was related the largest research ever completed on longevity in dogs, involving 191 breeds and a total 48,891 dogs.

It was commissioned by the Kennel Club. What it discovered was that dogs were dying 11% earlier over a ten years period.  That means that across all the breeds, Kennel Club registered dogs now live on average to just 10 years down from 11yrs 3 months in 2004.

That is a shocking statistic by any stretch of the imagination, as all the information we were given was that dogs were living longer than ever before. We were told that this was due to advanced veterinary procedures, preventative health care and balanced diets. It appears something has gone very seriously wrong and something is killing our dogs.

Strangely enough, this earth-shattering announcement was ignored by nearly all and sundry. The BVA (British Veterinary Society)   and the  RCVS (Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons)  appear to have totally missed this incredible statistic. Almost to say “it was nothing to do with us”  

Well, I believe it has everything to do with them. I did not see any mention in any of the trade magazines like the Pet Gazette (not surprised). Totally ignored by the doggy magazines, (can’t upset the advertisers). The Telegraph did a piece on it and Pedigree Dogs Exposed and that is about all.

It had also taken the KC well over a year to report on its 2014 health survey a follow-up to its 2004 survey. I think they were afraid because It makes for very grim reading. However none of the few that actually commented gave any indication of why the dogs were dying so early, so I decided to investigate culminating in my article (3) Why Are Our Dogs Dying Early?

In that article, I lay out three key elements that I believe are suspects in the early demise of our dogs. These three are not the only ones but they are probably the three strongest contenders. It may not surprise you to know that Vets are to some extent wholly or partially involved in all three.

The cost of insurance and veterinary fees have skyrocketed over the last twenty years, far in excess of inflation. I  believe part of that is the corporate involvement and part is vets looking at their clients as cash cows.

The Vets Oath: At one time I believe the Veterinary profession was required to swear an oath "Primum non Nocere"  (First Do No Harm)

This has been superseded by a long rambling oath swearing fealty to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Surely it should be the animals that come first, not a professional body that has presided over what I believe is a systemic failure in a profession that was once venerated?

I have never used Vets that belong to any of the groups, I always use an independent that I know and I can trust

I want to see the same vet who knows my pets and understands my concerns on overvaccination, neutering, overmedication and specialist referrals of our animals for the slightest thing. I hate being treated as a cash cow and I want my vet to be compassionate and caring as well as professional.

I do not want reminders that I should have unnecessary annual vaccinations and that when I take a puppy in for their first Jabs I don't want the vet starting up the mantra of neutering. Despite the fact, there is empirical evidence that neutering, especially to young immature dogs, can have serious health and behavioural issues in the future. Are you aware that the RSPCA and some vets are neutering dogs as young as six weeks of age? 

To become a vet you go through a lengthy qualification period. If you are intelligent enough and successful you will join a profession that has been in existence since Claude Bourgelat founded the first veterinary school in Lyon, France in 1761. I do not believe that most of these Vets are not aware that some of the procedures they are recommending and regularly performing have a negative effect on that animal's health and wellbeing in the future. (5) Dangers of Neutering Dogs

As a footnote In 2017 the Skeldale Veterinary Practice, a partnership once run by Alfred Wight and Donald Sinclair (aka Siegfried Farnon and James Herriot), sold out to Medivet, a chain of more than 260 vet practices backed by London private-equity firm, Inflexion.

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© Stan Rawlinson 18th June 2020

(1) CVS Group Employee Reviews

(2) Disgruntled and Concerned Vets 

(3) Why Are Our Dog Dying Early?

(4) Why I am Ashamed to be a Vet

(5) Dangers of Neutering Dogs





'How do vets sleep at night' has become the stock phrase uttered by myself & friends, anytime we have to see one. Yes, they are under pressure by corporate interests (being sued for daring to suggest Frontline no longer works), but isn't it time we all stood together and found a way to fight back?

Stan Rawlinson's picture

I couldn't agree with you more. But frontline is just the tip of the iceberg of the chemical and products they are pumping into our pets unnecessarily. It would take a 10.000-word article for just to cover s small part of the damage done to our animals. Let me give you one that has recently really annoyed me. The Breeder gets the puppy vaccinated the owner goes to the Vets to have the second vaccination the Vets says they do not stock that brand therefore they will have to start all over again. Not only do they do this for the money, it is the potential damage they cause through overvaccination including adverse reactions to an immune system not fully formed but also to the delay in being able to socialise this puppy is nothing less that than criminal and professional negligence.

Any Vet can get any brand they want, and why do they have to vaccinate twice? and in this case three times or more. That is another scam related to when we did not wean our dogs many years ago until 8 or 9 weeks therefore whilst still taking the mothers milk the antibodies in that milk and colostrum could affect the efficiency of that initial vaccine. Now we start to wean at 3.5 weeks and most are fully weaned by 7 weeks, therefore, why do we still need the second vaccination?. MONEY AND PROFIT. 

Unfortunately it appears to be and unfortunately the RCVS seem not to care or possibly have not noticed. 21 years on they still only recognise complaints against a named vet not a Corporate because only vets own practices.The RCVS haven´t in fact changed very much in 50 years and still reject 99% of complaints.They refuse to intervene in excessive fees and the monopoly practice of profit before welfare Corporates and perhaps a reason why dogs are not living as long is because many are not living at all economic euthanasia in the face of extreme fees and rising cost of insurance. It is not only clients and pets that are feeling the impact of the failings of the RCVS.Vet professionals are suffering the stress of pressure, and uncertainty , and how many are leaving the profession or feel they are no longer fulfilling their vocation ...isn´t the suicide rate very high amongst vets.The Profession deserves better and certainly a better body to govern it.

Stan Rawlinson's picture

I totally agree with everything you have said and this brings us to the Crux of the matter. Yes, vets have a very high suicide rate in their chosen profession and yes I think pressure from corporate money men play a part. However, if vets spoke out more against over-vaccination, paediatric neutering and unnecessary tests then it would have to change. Currently, that is not happening and the high rate of suicide in vets and veterinary workers is unacceptable. I believe it is happening because of the moral and ethical pressures put on them. 

As a young vet I feel like I should stand up for my profession. We’re not perfect. As individuals we all have the same ups and downs as everyone does in life, we have good days and bad days, we have mortgages and kids or divorces or migraines to deal with just like everyone. As businesses, again, there are good and bad businesses and there are pros and cons to independent and to privately owned practices.
I don’t own a practice, but the fact of the matter is I could never afford it. I left university with £60k of student debt. I now have a mortgage as well and my salary is in the same bracket as a senior teacher. (im in my early 30s). This is normal for vets under 35 or so(and it’s not much better for the vets over 35! And even worse for vets under 30 and those going through uni now) There is no way any bank would finance me or many of my colleagues to have a partnership in a private practice, leaving partnership within a corporate the only remaining option because it’s cheaper. With that cheapness comes less control over your business however.
Is there a potential issue with the monopoly of corporate ownership, yes I’m sure there is. But if you guys feel passionately about it then group together, buy your own practice, run it the way you want to and find like minded vets!
Regarding the death rates in pedigree dogs, to jump to the conclusion that it is vaccination is the root cause is not scientifically rigorous. Yes vaccination has increased, but it has also increased in non KC registered dogs, what is their death rate? There are lots of other potential causes as well... poor genetic selection, in breeding, an increasingly disposable pet culture amongst some owners, increased cost of care making treatment of chronic disease unviable, poor reporting of death rates in the past, or improved reporting now might also be contributing. One of the most depressing part of my job is when people want to euthanise puppies in litters because they don’t meet breed standards! I have to work really hard to talk some breeder out of this! I see lots of expensively purchased dogs owned by people ill equipped to look after them, the dogs develop behavioural issues and then owners want them put to sleep. I am NOT saying this increase in death rate is the fault of owners, but what I am saying is that to jump to the conclusion that vaccination is at the route of this does a disservice to a terrible statistic that should be investigated. Unfortunately research the like of which would be required to address that question is expensive, the RVCS and BVA can’t really fund that sort of work as it’s not in their remit, it is within the KC remit, and a few other dog charities, so if we want to get to the bottom of this then it is them we need to petition to fund this work. And if you don’t trust vets to do it then get also petition to have the research done by biologists or independent statisticians. But don’t just blame vets. Every single one of us came in to our profession because we want to help.
When I left university I was the lowest paid out of all my non vet friends, they all went on to work in high paid city jobs, I earn half of what my doctor friends earn. Vets have one of the highest fates of suicide of any profession, because it’s hard, because the hours are long, because the pay isn’t that great when you account for the amount of debt we all have, and because we care so much that we don’t sleep at night when things go wrong.
We’re not perfect, but maybe we can fix these problems together rather than just feeding a culture war online of vets v dog lovers. We should all be on the same side!

Yes it is and the fault lies with the RCVS and not with vets or their clients.A self serving governing body that hides behind a 50 year old Act and agrees that the Act is antiquated but has done nothing to change it, it ignores complaints, its policy makers work for Corporates and do nothing to control or regulate fees or Corporate monopolies, fees that result in unaffordable insurance and economic euthanasia. Profit before welfare denys vets their vocation, clients justice and pets dedicated care..The RCVS has no desire or ability to mend the profession, vet professionals , clients and Government need to intervene to re-establish the faith that we used to have in Independent vets.

We had a wonderful vet for 15 years. We have whippets and his mother used to breed whippets, so he knew more about them than your regular vet. I used to take my whippets to home whenever I was worried about anything. He had a look, if it was nothing, he didn't charge me anything, just happy that I was a responsible dog owner. Over the years more vets joined the practice and started to charge more and more money. My old vet retired and the way we are treated now is as you said, like cash cows. One of my whippets was having trouble jumping up and walking up the stairs. Saw the vet, checking his movement, his temperature, his heart, gave him an injection against pain. Got a small bottle of Loxicom and £178 bill to go with it.
It is a shame that especially the younger vets are so keen to stick needles in our dogs and prescribe stomach tablets at £8 each because a dog is vomiting.

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