British Horse Vets Vote Against Corporatization

British Horse Vets Vote Against Corporatization

Veterinary practice corporatization is a growing trend; the U.K.’s biggest veterinary group has acquired 32 equine practices over the past two years alone.

Photo: Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

It seems that horse veterinarians in the U.K. are not keen for their industry to be corporatized given the results of a hotly contested debate at 2017 British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) Congress, which took place Sept. 14-16 in Liverpool, U.K.

Just 28% of voters agreed with the motion that “corporatization is inevitable and will benefit vets and their clients,” with 72% disagreeing.

Veterinary practice corporatization is a growing trend; the U.K.’s biggest veterinary group, CVS, has acquired 32 equine practices over the past two years alone, the latest including two of the country’s most prestigious: B&W Equine Group, which has several clinics in and around Gloustershire, England, and Bell Equine, in Kent, England. However, it remains a controversial process with strong views from both sides about the potential advantages or drawbacks to veterinarians, their clients and their patients.

Madeleine Campbell, BVetMed (Hons), MA, PhD, Dipl. ECAR, CAWBM (AWSEL), MRCVS, moderated the robust, good-humored debate. Keith Chandler, BVMS, CertEP, MRCVS, former BEVA president and member of the acquisitions team at Independent Vet Care, and Karl Holliman, BVM&S, Cert. EP, MRCVS, partner and director at Cliffe Equine Vets, in East Sussex, England, and past chairman of XL Equine, argued for corporatization. Their supporting witnesses were Lesley Barwise Munro, BSc, BVM&S, CertEP, MRCVS, of AlNorthumbria Vets, in Northumberland, England, and which was sold to CVS in 2015, and Julian Samuelson, MA, VetMB, MBA, MRCVS, a former managing partner of Bell Equine, which was sold to CVS earlier this year.

Andrew Harrison, BVSc, CertEP, CertVA, MRCVS, a partner at Three Counties Equine Hospital, in Gloucestershire, and Tim Greet, BVMS, FRCVS, MVM, Cert EO, DESTS, Dipl. ECVS, who recently retired as an equine partner at Rossdales Veterinary Surgeons, in Newmarket, England, took the opposing corner. Their supporting witnesses were Louise Radford, BVetMed, Cert.VR, MRCVS, a qualified vet who now works in the pharmaceutical industry, and Nenad Zillic, BVetMed, CertEP, MRCVS, RCVS, partner at the Barn Equine Surgery, in East Dorset, England.

With a relatively even balance of views at the start of the debate with 44% of the audience agreeing with the motion and 56% disagreeing, an hour of candid discussion served to strengthen the tide of opinion against the motion.

The pro-corporatization team advocated that obvious commercial and business advantages, together with the scale and diversity of a corporate, can give vets greater potential for a more flexible career path and advancement within the industry, and a more sustainable working career in equine practice. Holliman pointed out that corporates enable greater purchasing power, better health and safety resources, improved career structure, and the freedom for employed vets to focus on clinical expertise rather than becoming bogged down with practice management. Chandler argued that selling to a corporate is a solution to the problem of succession planning. In a climate of unwillingness for younger vets to buy into practice, selling allows partners to realize the value they have built up and release that equity to do something else.

This is all very well, Greet said on the anti-corporatization panel, but the good reputation the profession currently enjoys is based on service to clients and above all the animals in our care. Clinical rather than commercial elements drive practice and partners are light on their feet and can respond quickly to decisions without referring to “a ponderous corporate hierarchy.” He also argued that clients like continuity and the quickest way to lose them would be to send in different vets. A bespoke approach to client care was needed rather than hard targeting.

Harrison suggested that the only vets who really benefit from selling out are those who have one eye on retirement. Younger partners might be able to pay off the loan they took out to buy into practice in the first place but are then likely to take a considerable drop in salary and be given a middle management job, moving from the “pilot seat into the passenger seat.” He purported that young vets cannot afford to buy into practices because the industry is being “fueled by the corporates who are falling over themselves competing to buy equine practices and squeezing out our fellow professionals.”

Pro-corporatization witness Samuelson maintained that since Bell Equine has been sold to CVS there has been no change to client service, no restrictions on clinical performance, and no targets have been imposed to achieve set revenues. Anti-corporatization witness Radford made the point that big corporates could exert pressure on pharmaceutical companies to drive down prices, which would reduce their capacity to invest in research and development trials and continuing professional development, to the ultimate detriment of the veterinary industry.

The session closed with a significant majority of 72% of the audience disagreeing with the motion “corporatization is inevitable and will benefit vets and their clients.”

“Whether we like it or not corporatization of equine practices is on the rise,” said BEVA President Jon Pycock, BVetMed, PhD, DESM, MRCVS. “But it shouldn’t mean that the future isn’t going to be viable for independents too as there is a role for both to co-exist. Importantly, this should mean that vets and their clients will both continue to have choices.”

The debate took place at the BEVA Congress on Sept. 14. Next year’s Congress will be held in Birmingham Sept. 12-15, 2018. For further information beva.org.uk.

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