Pets are being 'put at risk' as private equity firms buy up veterinarians, with complaints rising 64% in two years.
A Daily Mail investigation today finds that complaints against veterinary practices have increased by 64% in only two years.
However, despite reports that corporate behemoths are putting our dogs' lives in jeopardy, a staggering 99 percent of professional misconduct cases were dismissed in 2020.
More than half of the 6,000 veterinary clinics are held by just six businesses, thanks to a multi-billion pound purchase binge that began when ownership regulations were eased in 1999. Private equity firms make up three of them.
When something goes wrong, some pet owners claim the system is rigged against them in the modern era of huge money.
Consider the case of Eva, a five-year-old Bracco Italiano valued £125,000 who became ill ten days after winning Best of Breed at Crufts in 2019. Eva died several days after emergency treatment for a suspected intestinal blockage, according to owner Lynne Bowley, 56, who took her to her neighborhood vet, which is owned by CVS, a publicly traded corporation with roughly 500 surgeries.
Eva should have been referred to a pet hospital for specialist treatment far sooner, according to another veterinarian, but her complaint to CVS was ignored.
Her approach to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, which handles professional misconduct allegations, was similar. In 2020, nearly all of these complaints were dismissed.
Trace Brown, 33, alleges she was 'gaslighted and stonewalled' by attorneys for 17 months after her dog Honey nearly died due to a botched surgery that resulted in her losing 16 inches of intestine. Miss Brown has been traumatized and is unable to move forward.
A quick trip through Facebook reveals a slew of stories of veterinarians overlooking health-related warning flags and reports of management bullying when pet owners voice concerns. Experts see the current condition of the sector as a David vs Goliath battle, with firms unable to be held accountable, putting standards at danger.
Investors have been eager to cash in on a burgeoning industry after the laws changed in 1999, with spending on services reaching £4.5 billion in 2019, up 57% from 2015.
However, there are now concerns that takeovers are to blame for an increase in complaints, as pet owners lose trust in faceless businesses. In 2019-20, the Veterinary Client Mediation Service (VCMS) received 3,151 complaints, up from 1,941 complaints in 2017-18. According to the VCMS, which was founded in 2016, the increase could be attributed to increased knowledge of the service as well as an increase in pet ownership.
The Good Vet & Pet Guide's Chris Deadman, on the other hand, claims that the takeover of independent clinics has resulted in "a actual reduction of quality and increasing complaints." Corporate groups accounted for over 55% of complaints to the VCMS, compared to 30% for independent veterinarians.
This represents market share: two-thirds of practices fall into one of three or more groups. Pet owners, on the other hand, are dissatisfied with how large corporations respond to complaints. Although its statistics shows no difference in participation between independents and corporations, the VCMS is voluntary and practices denied mediation in almost one out of every ten cases last year.
Mr Deadman said that he had been threatened with legal action because of unfavorable comments on his website. Because there is no form of link with the individual client, the corporate culture is to shut things down and scare people, he noted.
He claims that the only option for pet owners to seek remedy is through a civil lawsuit, but that the fees are excessive.
The arms are completely out of balance. It's the story of David and Goliath, he explained. Critics also believe that businesses are abusing a complaints procedure that is rigged in their favor. This is partially because the RCVS demands complainants to establish misbehavior beyond all reasonable doubt," according to David Anderson, founder of the Facebook group Vets, Vets Now & RCVS Complaints. The majority of regulators base their decisions on the balance of possibilities.
According to Mr. Anderson, businesses know that complaints are likely to be dismissed, so they have no motivation to admit mistakes.
He continued, Groups like Vets Now, who have a monopoly of practices in particular locations, have very little to lose because customers have no choice but to return.
Vets Now is the premier emergency veterinary care company. IVC Evidensia, backed by private equity, bought it in 2019, and now owns 993 practices, accounting for about 20% of the market.
In the future, the RCVS has authorized a plan to implement a proof requirement based on the balance of probabilities. We investigate all concerns raised with us regarding veterinary professionals, regardless of the type of practice or environment they work in, according to a spokeswoman. Evidensia did not respond to a request for comment.