Carthy supports Bill to prevent corporate takeover of veterinary practices
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture Matt Carthy TD has called on the government to support legislation that would ban corporate ownership of veterinary practices within the state.
Guidelines from the Veterinary Council of Ireland (VCI) previously prohibited the purchase of local veterinary practises by ‘non-vet’ corporations but these were revised in 2017 as VCI found that they lacked the statutory basis to implement such a ban.
During his contribution to a Dáil debate on proposed new legislation, Carthy also challenged the Agriculture Minister in relation to the controversial implementation of EU Regulation 2019/6 which could see the role of the Licensed Merchant sector in providing Veterinary Medicinal Products severely curtailed.
Deputy Carthy told the Dáil:
“This Bill is introducing nothing new or controversial. It is simply bringing us back to the position we were in before the Veterinary Council of Ireland revised its guidelines in 2017. My understanding is that the council revised those guidelines when it came to understand that there was no statutory basis to limiting the ownership of veterinary practices to veterinary practitioners.
“The current network of veterinary practices in Ireland has been referred to as the hold-out against the trend of corporate ownership which has developed elsewhere.
“There is good reason for Ireland to hold out, given that locally owned veterinary practices complement our unique family farm network. The Minister essentially acknowledged that the horse has not bolted yet but indicated, in many respects, that we will wait until it has bolted before doing anything about it.
“This legislation is timely and it is apt that we are discussing it now. There are good practical reasons for seeking to limit the ownership of practices to vets. We know that internationally, where corporates have acquired local practices, there has been a derogation of the services offered.
“In February 2018, an attorney from the legal affairs division of the department of consumer affairs in the state of California issued a lengthy legal opinion stating that corporate ownership had amounted to corporate entities ultimately ‘practising the licensed profession of veterinary medicine’. She went on to state that the ‘employment agreements contain net revenue percentage incentives to sell the corporation’s animal care products that may or may not be in the best interests of the animal and that this creates an environment where veterinarians may believe that their employment is at risk if they are not selling those products’.
“A 2019 survey of the veterinary profession carried out in Britain heard concerns from many practising vets. One said that ‘it was a great mistake to allow non-vets to own practices because as soon as they take over, the prices go sky high’. Another said that the ‘ability of huge corporates to do just as they please will continue to get worse’. There are references to a ‘commercialised profession’ more interested in commercial gain for large conglomerates than in caring for patients and clients.
Experience in Britain
“When corporate ownership was permitted across Britain, the proportion of corporates went from 0% to 10% of all practices between 1999 and 2009. It had grown to 50% by last year and is forecast to eclipse 70% by next year. It is quite clear that we need to make sure that this horse does not bolt.
“These are the same corporate players that are currently just dipping their toes into the Irish water. We have witnessed what large-scale corporate ownership could mean for rural communities with the experience in the Minister’s constituency at Donegal Animal Hospital. Having been acquired by a corporate, we saw a situation develop which almost resulted in the loss of the 24-hour service in that county. Fortunately, that situation was resolved but it was local veterinary practitioners who ensured that the service was maintained, not the new corporate entity.
“We cannot allow a situation to arise whereby corporate entities can put pressure on local vets to increase margins through either delivering a poorer service to smaller or more peripheral farms, or even through incentivising the sale and use of veterinary medicinal products we are seeking to decrease reliance on.
“Our farmers practice, and rightly so, the highest standards of animal husbandry anywhere in the world. We need practitioners in this field to rely on their own expert judgment rather than the interests of a new and separate master whose primary motivation will always be profit.
“It is important to note that this Bill is supported by Veterinary Ireland, while the majority of vets oppose corporate ownership entirely. I encourage all Members to support the bill, not simply because vets agree with the proposal before the House but because it is quite clearly the right thing to do.
“Some aspects of society, and particularly of the corporate world, need to be tightly regulated and this is quite clearly one of them, especially in the context of what could become a global crisis in antimicrobial resistance. We must ensure that the people at the coalface who are prescribing medicines for animals on farms and for our pets have a long-term interest in the community and in the welfare of those animals.
Licence Merchants and Veterinary Medical Products
“On the issue of veterinary medicinal products, I ask the Minister to urgently seek to resolve the impasse between the Department and those in the licensed merchant sector with regard to EU directive 2019/6.
“So-called ‘responsible persons’ in the licensed merchant sector and pharmacists are expertly trained to provide services locally that meet the highest standards and the needs of our farming communities. Many of them watched the hearings of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine and saw the cross-party unanimity on the question of a continuing role for them, particularly in the context of an almost identical regime in the North, and of Britain availing of a derogation that the Irish Government chose not to.
“I understand that those people who graduated in September 2019 from a course that cost €995 were addressed by none other than the current Minister for Agriculture. I have no doubt that at the time that the Minister spoke to them about how their hard work and study would pay off as they embarked on new careers.
“What does he intend to ask them to do with their costly training, which now appears to be pointless? What will the Department do to rectify that situation?
“I encourage and implore the Minister and the Minister of State to approach this bill constructively and positively. I look forward to further deliberations on Committee Stage to make sure this Bill is as robust and strong as possible and can withstand any challenges that may present.
“The horse has not yet bolted. We are in a unique situation whereby we know what will happen if this type of legislation is not introduced. We have seen the consequences elsewhere, across the water, in other parts of Europe and across the globe. Now is our time to make sure that the bolts are tightened and that we have a veterinary system in this country of which we can all be proud”.