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(Updated 13/8/01)

Veterinary Medicine fears

PROPOSALS BY the Government to stop allowing Veterinary Surgeons to dispense medicines from their surgeries and to only prescribe such medicines are said to be “unfounded” according to the British Veterinary Association, writes Nick Mays.

It had been rumoured that MAFF had seriously considered the recommendations of a wide-ranging report which recommended that Vets would no longer be allowed to dispense medicines but would instead issue a prescription for the appropriate medication. However, dispensing pharmacists would require a separate licence and qualification to dispense veterinary medicines. In addition, they would need to hold the stock separately from human medication on their premises.

The obvious downsides to this proposal are, of course, immediately apparent. The owner of a pet needing treatment would have to undertake two journeys with their pet; one to the vet to seek an opinion and prescription and a second journey to whichever pharmacy holds the drug required. The owner would be charged a consultation and prescription fee by the vet, whilst being charged a dispensing fee and the cost of the drug by the pharmacist.

Obviously, not all pharmacists would want to carry veterinary medicines or to qualify for the licence to dispense such medicines, which would cause further inconvenience to the pet owner who would need to travel further afield to obtain their pet’s medication.

These rather outlandish proposals were presented in a report compiled earlier this year on behalf of the former MAFF by Sir John Marsh, concentrating on the Supply and Sale of Prescription Only Veterinary Medicines, but concentrating mainly on the treatment of farm animals. Sir John’s report was, however, effectively ‘shelved’ by MAFF from March until July (thus avoiding the worst of the Foot and Mouth crisis and the General Election) and was only published, literally, on the last day that parliament was assembled, with the end result that no Ministerial attention has been given to the report.

Extra charges

However, this recommendation is most unlikely to be taken up, according to David Tyson, President of the British Veterinary Association. “Basically, the report says that if people wanted to have prescription only veterinary medicines, they could, but it would not be cost effective,” said Mr Tyson. “Several pharmacists would not wish to stock veterinary medicines and this would affect customer convenience and add extra charges. We will be pointing these facts out when the Government seek our response to the report which they have not done so yet, due to the summer recess.”

Mr Tyson added that there were some very positive findings and recommendations within the report, although rumours of the “prescription only” recommendation had come to the fore.

“The report also recommends the pan-European licensing of veterinary products, which the BVA welcomes,” said Mr Tyson. “This would be cheaper for Pharmaceutical companies in this country and bring about lower sales costs. Small animal preparations are a small, but still significant part of market costs, and this could only be good for the pet owner. It will certainly be beneficial as far as farm livestock are concerned, and this is where the majority of veterinary medicine sales are directed.

“Our own Medicines Select Committee reported on these facts to the Government two years ago, so it looks as if these points have been noted.”

Mr Tyson was careful not to pre-empt any Government statements on the matter, but pointed out that he could not see any change to the status quo of vets dispensing medicines in the immediate future.