There is an ever-present drum beat in the profession’s media, and that is of ever-improving standards and regulation; steadily increasing bureaucracy, compulsory CPD, increasing practice standards and the inspections and approvals and licences that come with them.
All very well and good. I’m all for it; I’m just like you – always thinking how can I do this or that better. In principle, I think animal owners are for it.
That said, it inevitably pushes costs to practices up. Records need to be kept – forms, inspections, CPD records, controlled drugs records, drug batch numbers have to be traceable. These are but a tiny fraction of the things we need to record and keep available. All these require staff time to administer them and all need space to store (either physically or electronically). All are an added cost to the practice, and therefore push up the costs of consultations, surgeries and tests.
So-called veterinary inflation is above “standard” inflation and reflects the increasing standards we hold ourselves to. I have worked in a variety of practices, from one-person-lock-up-at-night practices through to Tier Three and referral hospital-grade places – the “tier” reflecting increasing standards and regulation.
Take, as an example, a pruritic dog. Steroids are understandably frowned on as a first-line treatment, but not everyone can afford the tests required to start working through the possible diagnoses. The consult fee is the most obvious way the practice passes on the “fixed” costs of running the practice and the astonishing amount of admin behind it.
Ultimately, our job is animal welfare. While we strive to do this through good diagnostics and medicine, not everyone can stretch to it financially or with repeated time out of work to attend checks, and the welfare and medical charities have to be choosy who they help.
The profession is given a partial monopoly on animal medicine and even compulsion to seek our help through the Animal Welfare Act, but I wonder if the “powers that be” – by forcing increasing costs and bureaucracy on practices in an effort constantly to regulate them and improve standards – may eventually render us unable to have the diversity of practices necessary to cater for all “levels” and types of people and animal.