Larger vet bills loom following fee ban
The three year ban on veterinary prescription fees will be lifted from 31st October 2008.
The regulation, which was introduced by the former Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), allowed pet owners to obtain a free-of-charge prescription from their vet which they could then either take somewhere else - a veterinary pharmacy for example - or purchase direct from the vet who issued the prescription in the first place.
This freedom of choice enabled pet owners to compare prices elsewhere whilst escaping the pressure of being confronted with a non-negotiable prescription fee.
However, once the charge is reintroduced, customers may find themselves confronted with much larger vet bills, especially if repeat prescriptions are necessary. Andrew Bucher MRCVS, Chief Veterinary Officer at MedicAnimal.com, believes this could cause friction between vets and their customers.
‘The reintroduction of a prescription fee may undermine the relationship between vets and their clients.
‘Charging for prescriptions may antagonise pet owners, especially if repeat prescriptions are charged at an unnecessary frequency,’ added Mr Bucher.
This could have a hugely negative impact on a proportion of the pet-owning public who may be tempted to find unwise ways of saving money. The main fears are a rise in fake prescriptions or attempts to buy out-of-date stock from untrustworthy websites. Worse still, people might unknowingly buy products which could be poisonous.
On a more positive note, pet owners will still have the right to ask for a prescription to obtain these medicines from another veterinary surgery or pharmacy. Furthermore, purchase of prescriptions is not mandatory and vets must not charge different prices or fees to those who take a prescription and those who choose not to.
Although there are obvious drawbacks to the new policy, Mr Bucher insists that it will also have a positive effect on animals’ overall welfare.
‘MedicAnimal.com believes that the intention behind the charging of a prescription fee is good, in that it compels vets to follow an animal’s medical development more closely.
‘It is, however, important to make certain that vets are using this policy change to improve the welfare of animals rather than to generate more income for themselves. Only by setting out guidelines on how and when prescription charges should be levied, and by lowering the upper limit of these charges, can this be ensured,’ he added.
The moratorium on free vet prescriptions in the UK first originated in October 2005 following a string of complaints from animal owners and farmers who were concerned by the high price of prescription-only medicines (POMs).
After an investigation into the market by the Competition Commission (CC) at the behest of the the Director General of Fair Trading, the DTI, now Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform (BERR), drafted an Order which prohibited all UK veterinary surgeons from charging a fee to write a prescription during the ensuing three years.
Now that we are coming to the end of that three-year period, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) are preparing to monitor the reintroduction of prescription charges, with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) monitoring complaints with regards to such charges.
If you are worried about prescription charges visit http://www.consumerdirect.gov.uk/before_you_buy/thinking_about/560042/.