The British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) reports that at the end of a hotly contested Moral Maze style debate held at Congress last week, only 28% of the 329 delegates agreed with the motion: Corporatisation is inevitable and will benefit vets and their clients.
The debate, which was described as 'robust but good-humoured', was moderated by BEVA past-President Madeleine Campbell, sole partner at Hobgoblins Equine Reproduction Centre.
Keith Chandler, former BEVA President and member of the acquisitions team at Independent Vet Care and Karl Holliman, partner and director at Cliff Veterinary group and past chairman of XL Equine, argued for corporatisation.
Their supporting witnesses were Lesley Barwise Munro of AlNorthumbria vets which was sold to CVS in 2015 and Julian Samuelson a former managing partner of Bell Equine, which was sold to CVS earlier this year.
In the opposing corner were Andrew Harrison, a partner at Three Counties Equine Hospital and Tim Greet, who recently retired as an equine partner at Rossdales.
Their supporting witnesses were Louise Radford MRCVS, who now works in the pharmaceutical industry and Nenad Zillic, partner at the Barn Equine Surgery.
As the moderator called 'seconds out', opinion was relatively evenly divided, with 44% of the audience agreeing with the motion and 56% disagreeing.
The pro corporatisation team advocated that obvious commercial and business advantages, together with the scale and diversity of a corporate, can give vets greater potential for a more flexible career path and advancement within the industry, and a more sustainable working career in equine practice.
Karl Holliwell pointed out that corporates enable greater purchasing power, better health and safety resources, improved career structure and the freedom for employed vets to focus on clinical expertise rather than becoming bogged down with practice management.
Keith Chandler went on to argue that selling to a corporate is a solution to the problem of succession planning. In a climate of unwillingness for younger vets to buy in to practice, selling allows partners to realise the value they've built up and release that equity to do something else.
This is all very well, said Tim Greet, on the anti corporatisation panel, but the good reputation the profession currently enjoys is based on service to clients and above all the animals in our care. Clinical rather than commercial elements drive practice and partners are light on their feet and can respond quickly to decisions without referring to "a ponderous corporate hierarchy".
Tim also argued that clients like continuity and the quickest way to lose them would be to send in different vets. A bespoke approach to client care was needed rather than hard targeting.
Andrew Harrison went on to suggest that the only vets who really benefit from selling out are those who have one eye on retirement. Younger partners may be able to pay off the loan they took out to buy into practice in the first place but are then likely to take a considerable drop in salary and be given a middle management job, moving from the "pilot seat into the passenger seat." He argued that young vets cannot afford to buy into practices because the industry is being "fuelled by the corporates who are falling over themselves competing to buy equine practices and squeezing out our fellow professionals."
Pro corporatisation witness Julian Samuelson maintained that since Bell Equine has been sold to CVS there has been no change to client service, no restrictions on clinical performance and that no targets have been imposed to achieve set revenues.
Anti-corporatisation witness Louise Radford made the point that big corporates could exert pressure on pharmaceutical companies to drive down prices, which would reduce their capacity to invest in research and development trials and CPD, to the ultimate detriment of the veterinary industry.
The session closed with 72% of the audience disagreeing with the motion Corporatisation is inevitable and will benefit vets and their clients.
BEVA President Jon Pycock said: "Whether we like it or not corporatisation of equine practices is on the rise. But it shouldn’t mean that the future isn’t going to be viable for independents too as there is a role for both to co-exist. Importantly, this should mean that vets and their clients will both continue to have choices."