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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Issue: 08/12/2017

A disservice to vets

A couple of years ago at Vets Now in Colchester, amongst other things, my dog was given a dose of a toxic drug already administered, therefore he was given an overdose.
This matter has never been denied but simply excused and we were charged over 1000 for an overnight stay. 
Vets Now attempted to explain the fee by saying that our dog Jack may have been suffering from a condition that he did not have. The vet agreed that he did not have this condition and he had a certificate from an experienced vet, who knew him well, saying that he didn't have. 
Since this time I have been doing my best, along with many others, to draw to the attention of animal lovers and vet users to both the nature of this company and the, in my opinion, lamentable failings of the RCVS in their governance.
In the 6th October edition of OUR DOGS there was the case of Josephine Garlick who has been left frustrated after her complaints about the way Vets Now treated her were ignored by the RCVS. I cannot comment personally on Mrs Garlick's experiences in relation to the diagnosis and treatment given to her  dog, Lilly, in her Vets Now consultation, although Mrs Garlick is clearly a determined woman whose story has remained plausible, consistent and mirrors the experience of many others and despite being threatened with litigation she continues to tell her story. Based on my own experiences and those of a good number of other complainants (see the website Trustpilot and many other comments online) I certainly know whose version of events I believe.
I can most certainly agree with Mrs Garlick's statements about the desire by Vets Now employees, which clearly comes from the CEO, on maximising charges and ensuring that payment for medication and treatment is made, in full and in advance, usually before any diagnosis has been made. Even those clients who do not complain about the treatment given to their pets will always comment on the very high costs.
An ex-employee, one of the very few vets ever disciplined, as part of her attempt to justify the incorrect billing of a client expressed her anxiety that she knew that she had to charge for something.
The CEO is famously on record for his statement made on national radio when challenged by the manager of a cat rescue that he is not in this business to make money (You and Yours BBC Radio 4 March 2012, 'Is Contracted Out Overnight Care Harming Pets'). He certainly makes a great deal of it now. 
Again on national radio (You and Yours BBC Radio 4 Dec 2014 "What lies behind the soaring cost of pet care") when the practice of over treatment in order to overcharge was raised by the insurance industry representative who commented on the high and unexplained costs of emergency provision.
Vets Now's stock responses to complaints about their fees (again look at Trustpilot reviews) are that they recommend a high level insurance policy. Well of course they do, as it allows them to charge what they like. Yet the Insurance companies are capping payouts so that they will not lose money meaning premiums will inevitably increase. 
Their explanation of prices is confined to telling you what they are and making it plain that if you do not pay for your animal it will not be treated. In the past I have asked how their prices are determined, only to be told that Ms Playforth, Head of Veterinary Standards, that Vet's Now reviews them annually and some prices go up and others down. When asked how prices are determined and for an example of a price going down there was a deafening silence. 
They always say, 'Our prices reflect the emergency and critical care nature of the care and treatment we provide'. This is utter nonsense, in my opinion. The RCVS allows them to work in a way that their surgeries are busy, their profits are huge and their CEO is aiming to increase them at their clients' expense and is aiming at 70 million in revenues and 10 million in profit. This is as long as he can get the staff from Europe. Does that mean he pays them less? (Telegraph online Oct 2016)
There are many more criticisms that can easily be levelled at this company who appear to put profit before welfare. Things like their prices, marking up medication by 1000%,  the without permission 'donation' on your bill to Pet Blood Bank which is a charity that appears to do nothing charitable.
Vets have an enshrined duty to provide 24 hour care and many conscientious vets still consider this to be an important part of their vocation. It allows younger  and inexperienced vets to learn their trade when undertaking out of hours emergency work. More importantly it enables them to ensure that sick animals can have a continuity of service with vets who know them and their case histories.
However, the RCVS has allowed Vets Now to buy out this duty and to set up surgeries within a large radius. 
In my opnion,  more vets need to realise the hypocrisy of appealing to the loyalty of their customers and the  importance of them knowing your pet, but at the same time forcing their customers, like Mrs Garlick, to take their sick pets perhaps forty miles to a vet who knows nothing of the animal, charging them a fortune and then throwing them out the following morning at 7.00am.
There are still practices that work co-operatively to provide this emergency provision, sharing information and providing a better service for a reasonable fee.
Vets Now maintain that in response to complaints they have a robust self-investigation  process. Though they have refused to tell me in how many cases they have found for the client, none I suspect, as they know full well that the RCVS will always find in their favour. Very, very nearly always as there have only been four Vets Now vets considered for disciplinary action in 16 years and there have been a lot of complaints. 
Amazingly, the RCVS maintain that they have very little power to regulate the performance of a vet, let alone that of company. And though they choose not to regulate fees they do in fact have the power to discipline a vet for charging excessive fees. However, in 50 years, they have never done so. 
Vets Now get away with what they do because, in my opinion,  the RCVS allows them to and of course the RCVS exonerated Vets Now in Mrs Garlick's case as they do with 99% of all complaints. Why they do so is obvious as they see their role as simply to look after their members and they only pay lip service to client complaints. In fact as far as they are concerned  complaints are now 'concerns' so the death of Mrs Garlic's Lilly is apparently just a matter of 'concern'.
How the RCVS effectively ignores client complaints and fails to regulate the profession is another matter that will not only surprise you but also does a disservice to the vast majority of caring and professional vets.
I would like to know of others who feel the same way. 
Yours etc
David Anderson

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