Cost of veterinary medicines to be cut

Michael Harrison Business Editor
Saturday 12 April 2003 00:00

Pet owners will see a dramatic reduction in the cost of treatment for their sick animals after the Government demanded a reduction yesterday in charges for veterinary medicine.

The Government said vets, manufacturers and wholesalers were engaged in a "complex" monopoly which acted against the public interest and kept prices artificially high. The Trade and Industry Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, said pharmacies as well as vets should be allowed to sell veterinary medicines to increase competition and bring prices down.

Veterinary medicines will be available through ordinary chemists' shops and vets will have to provide pet owners with much more information about the price of prescriptions, where else they can buy them and how much repeat prescriptions will cost.

The market is worth £1.3bn a year but the 18-month investigation found that vets routinely fail to inform owners of the price of medicines before they were prescribed and fail to pass on discounts they receive from manufacturers and wholesalers for buying in bulk.

An NOP survey of European prices carried out for the Competition Commission showed that common treatments for cats and dogs were typically 20-30 per cent cheaper in pharmacies than in veterinary surgeries.

The commission's 800-page report concluded that three different monopolies were in operation. The first involved the failure of most vets to inform pet owners of prices. The second was the failure of eight big manufacturers – including Pfizer and Novartis – controlling nearly half of all veterinary medicines to supply to pharmacies on the same terms as they sold to vets. The third involved the failure of big wholesalers to supply pharmacies.

Ms Hewitt said the report showed the veterinary market was not working as well as it might. "Prices are too high. Once implemented, the Commission's recommendations and proposed remedies should lead to greater choice for animal owners and increased competition in the market," she said.

Stephen Ware, president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, maintained that people who owned animals had been well-served by the veterinary profession "in terms of quality and cost".

A spokesman for the college added that the price of prescriptions was used by many vets to cross-subsidise their fees which continue to remain low in comparison to other professions such as the law.

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