Pigeon Post from the UK

Do you remember the British drought … that never was (Pigeon Post, April 2012)? We’ve just ‘enjoyed’ the wettest June on record throughout most of the country and July seems to be following suit so far. The reservoirs are full, all water restrictions lifted and the newspapers ‘splashed’ with images of watercourses in spate and unfortunates mopping out their front rooms and businesses.  It’s highly unlikely that Andy Murray would have managed to lose his Wimbledon men’s singles final on schedule, but for the roof on Centre Court.

The consensus seems to be that climate change is bringing Britain warmer, but wetter summers than ever before.  Is our capricious weather finally going to become more predictable … i.e. wet all the time?!

Veterinary business is changing too. In recent years there’s been a growing trend toward corporate ownership of practices in the UK.

It’s estimated that ten years ago fewer than 3% of all practices were corporates; it’s now around 10% – mainly in the more profitable small animal sector. Corporate groups have progressively bought out retiring partnerships, redeveloped and rebranded premises, expanded the services they offer and built entirely new clinics from the ground up. As fewer vets seem inclined to take on the burden of partnership it might appear that the days of traditional practice are numbered.

Recently a couple of alternative ownership models have begun trading. Animal Tails in Stirling, Scotland opened in May. The practice is the first wholly employee owned and operated practice in the UK. It came about when five female friends, (two vets, two veterinary nurses and a receptionist) who had all worked together previously, decided to try a new approach to veterinary practice. There is no senior partner or manager, everyone has an equal investment in the business and contributes to management and decision making. Salaries are scaled and based upon qualifications, but business profits are divided equally. The ladies have another novel idea and intend to establish an interactive ‘Pet Portal’ on their website where clients can access useful information, their own pet’s clinical records and book online appointments.

In Bolton, Lancashire two 2005 male graduates of Cambridge University Vet School have set up Animal Trust as a ‘not for profit’ practice. The owners state that their sole intention is to ‘… maximise animal welfare’ and believe that ‘…veterinary care should be about making animals better and not about making profits.’ Their business reinvests any profits that are made into the practice. No consultation fees are charged and prices for medicines, consumables, tests and treatments are reportedly competitive. An out of hours fee of £50 (A$76) is charged to cover the cost of 24/7 service provision. There are no restrictions on who can attend the clinic, nor how many pets owners can register. The aim is to encourage early presentation of all sick or injured pets to minimise suffering. Naturally this charitable approach has caused some consternation among neighbouring practices and veterinary business groups who feel that charging for time is a reasonable part of business practise and turning a profit justifiable recompense for effort as well as essential for day-to-day survival.

There’s no doubt that money is still very tight in the UK, but a recent survey of 2,000 pet owners by the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA) found that owners aren’t economising on pet care. Only 6% had cut back on pet treats, 4% on pet food and just 3% on pet health care. Instead owners were saving by limiting their own indulgences with reductions of over a third in eating out and a quarter in clothes shopping and entertainment. In 2011 the UK pet food market for the 16 million resident dogs and cats plus all the fish, furries, birds and reptiles was worth £2.41 (A$3.66) billion and still growing!

The long established British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) Congress also continues to grow. Held in Birmingham every April, the 2012 congress combined with the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) and the Federation of European Companion Animal Veterinary Associations (FECAVA) to make it the biggest veterinary event ever held in the UK. Over four days 10,000 people from 70 countries attended which was 22% up on 2011 attendance. The congress offers a wide range of CPD options, meetings for special interest groups, a large commercial exhibition, opportunities to discuss new research and a varied social programme in the evenings. Next years congress will be held over 4-7th April. Further details are available from www.bsava.com .

With the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, Football’s Euro 2012 tournament, Wimbledon and a couple of touring cricket sides disposed of the country can now focus on the Olympics where Team GB should, theoretically, excel in all water sports!

IAN NEVILLE