The world of large animal vets is changing with corporate groups entering the market and buying practices. What does this mean for the farmer?
The landscape is changing for the vet profession with large companies entering the industry to buy up established practices.
Now, 29 per cent of the UK’s practices dealing with farm animals are owned by a corporate group.
Farmers have raised concerns about the potential for rising vet bills, a lack of competition between practices, and fears the ‘best’, driven vets will leave these practices due to a lack of career progression.
However, according to Ian Cure, farm director at the UK’s largest corporate vet group VetPartners, changes to the industry are necessary to attract the right candidates into farm animal practices.
Mr Cure, who took his position at VetPartners following the company’s acquisition of his vet practice Lambert Leonard and May (LLM) Lancashire earlier this year, says in the current climate many practices have been struggling to recruit farm vets.
“We have been finding that graduates are increasingly likely to go into small animal medicine which is often a more attractive proposition in terms of pay and work-life balance.
A survey carried out in 2017 by the not-for-profit organisation for professional vets, SPVS, showed the average wage for a small animal vet was £44,150 compared to £37,870 for a mixed practice vet.
“At LLM we have struggled to recruit for the last three or four jobs we have advertised, and we only saw the problem getting worse.”
Mr Cure says the prospect of more on-call hours, TB testing and the need to invest a large sum of money into a practice to aid succession, were all combining to put candidates off.
“Younger vets often do not want to borrow to buy into a business, particularly if they have come out of university with some debt.
“That debt is only buying into the ability to have a profit share and that attitude to risk is not for everyone.
“As part of a bigger group, vets will have more opportunities to progress aside from the traditional route of eventually becoming a partner.”
This, he says, will include more training, opportunities for further educational qualifications and time to develop areas of clinical expertise.
However, Mr Cure conceded this model was ‘not for everyone’; there would always be independent practices, which still account for 43 per cent of the industry, and there would always be those vets who would want to work towards eventual partnership in the business.
While farmers may have concerns about rising vet costs for corporate owned vets, Mr Cure says the extra buying power these larger companies have should help keep medicine costs at a reasonable level.
He adds that despite being under the umbrella of a large company, the individual vet practices are run as individual businesses, which need to be competitive in their local area.
“Costs will vary across these practices. In the past money may have been made on medicines, but increasingly we have to balance the cost of medicines against the cost of the service we are offering.”
Farmers could well be concerned about the lack of competition among practices, with many neighbouring practices in some areas being under the same large company umbrella.
However, Mr Cure says there will always be competition between practices.
He says: “If a particular vet practice is not providing a good service, then there will always be other farm practices that can come in and offer something else whether they are independent, or part of a corporate.”
WHO ARE THESE CORPORATE GROUPS?
VETPARTNERS owns 18 per cent of UK farm animal practices, after being established in 2015. It owns 73 individual mixed or farm animal practices and cares for 20 per cent of the UK cattle population, 30 per cent of UK dairy herds and 45 per cent of the UK pig population.
Its latest acquisition was Clyde Veterinary Group, a mixed practice, which was taken on earlier this month. CVS Group, which owns 500 veterinary surgeries throughout the UK, Netherlands and Republic of Ireland, has a 6 per cent share (22 practices) in the UK farm animal practices.
Independent VetCare, owns over 100 mixed practices in the UK and accounts for 5 per cent of the farm animal practices. It formed with 20 UK practices in 2011, and now has over 800 practices across eight countries.