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RCVS oppose free prescription charges

THE ROYAL College of Veterinary Surgeons will oppose any plans by the Government to introduce free prescription charges for veterinary medicines, if the recommendations of the Competition Commission regarding veterinary charges is put into effect.

Writing in this week’s issue, OUR DOGS’ Bouvier des Flandres breed note writer Fiona Lambert refers to a letter she recently received from reader Eileen Randall-Crowther with interesting information relating to veterinary prescription charges.

Ms Randall Crowther writes: "More information has come to light about the DTI report on Veterinary Medicines recommending inter alia a three year ‘window’ of free prescriptions…"

As reported previously in OUR DOGS, the Director General of Fair Trading asked the Competition Commission to study the Supply of Veterinary Medicines because a ‘scale monopoly’ existed. This report was published in late 2003. One of the key recommendations – Clause 6 – called for an interim arrangement for prescriptions to be free of charge, covering the period required for further consultation and the drafting of legislation.

Ms Randall-Crowther points out: "A realistic look at the Parliament timetable shows the earliest date that we might expect the amended provisions to become law is the late spring of 2006. It is not clear to me who gave the Government’s Commission the impression that such a voluntary interim arrangement as Clause 6 would be accepted by Vets, as in August 2002 the BSAVA President, Julian Wells called the Inquiry ‘a waste of money’. …The (former) President of the RCVS has said that a reasonable charge for a prescription (a legal document) should be no more than £2.50.

"The current position is that the Royal College of Vet Surgeons are strongly resisting the implementation of Clause 6 (free prescriptions for 3 years) until the law is changed, albeit the law is unlikely to be changed for three years.


Abolition

"Of course, a General Election might return a Government of a different hue and the RCVS might welcome the abolition of the Competition Commission."

Clause 6 of the report’s summary states (in full):

(VI) A requirement, for a period of three years, for veterinary surgeons providing prescriptions to do so at no additional charge to the client beyond that of the consultation.

The Director General of Fair Trading (DGFT), with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), to monitor the prescriptions written, and the charges made for them, over the 12 months following the end of that period. The DGFT to set charges for prescriptions if, in his judgement, veterinary surgeons are charging for prescriptions so as to deter animal owners from asking for prescriptions or to influence the terms of competition with pharmacies to their own advantage.

A spokesman for the RCVS told OUR DOGS earlier this week: "The RCVS has neither power nor wish to implement the recommendation that prescriptions should be provided free of charge. This would be a matter solely for legislation if introduced."

The final assessment of the matter of prescription charges for veterinary medicines would be that any legislation bringing about the introduction of such charges would be dependant on (a) whether the Labour Government was returned at the next General Election (due in either 2005 or 2006) and (b),if it as returned, whether it would press ahead with legislation to implement the sweeping recommendations made by the Commission.

The Competition Commission website is: http://www.competition-commission.org.uk/rep_pub/reports/2003/478vetmeds.htm#summary
or write to: Competition Commission, New Court, 48 Carey Street, London WC2A 2JT