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Screaming for sweets in the supermarket - what vets think about charity work

by
01 May 2017, at 1:00am

GARETH CROSS concludes his series on the expectations of charities and finds a groundswell of opinion from vets who dislike or avoid the work entirely

SHORT COMMENT PIECE has created more feedback from vets in practice than any other. It is now time to share a selection of the comments I’ve received. Due to space constraints I won’t recap the story so far, but if you haven’t read the March and April columns, fish a copy of the magazine out from the recycling or look it up online. I also asked SPVS, the RCVS and the BVA for comment.

The RCVS responded:

I don’t think we would have any comment to give on this particular issue because whether or not a practice chooses to take part in a charity campaign is essentially a business issue and not a professional conduct issue – so don’t think it’s something we would take a view on.

The BVA said:

Our own survey shows that the vast majority of veterinary surgeons in the UK – more than four in five – give their time at a reduced rate, while more than two in five work unpaid with animal charities and rehoming centres to treat thousands of abandoned, mistreated or injured animals each year. But this work must be sustainable for the vets involved and this requires forming lasting partnerships with charities and animal welfare organisations that work for all involved. In a world where there is no state-funded healthcare for pets, and veterinary practices need to be financially sustainable and well resourced, the best partnerships between private veterinary practices and charities are two-way, helping to promote and sustain responsible animal ownership in the vet’s local
community as well as offering reduced or free services to animals and their owners in need.

Comments from vets

  • The worst offenders are the Cats Protection. They very recently asked us to participate in a cat neutering voucher scheme where we would neuter female cats for £55! For approximately £45, once you deduct VAT, they wished me to hospitalise an animal, anaesthetise it, perform surgery, monitor it, provide analgesia, feed it, send it home with printed aftercare instructions and see it back for a follow-up check. It’s outrageous. We declined, incidentally.
  • I wish veterinary surgeons around the UK would stand united and just say no to the charities’ demands. Either they can pay us properly to do the work or they can do it themselves!
  • More and more, the charities are taking work from private practices, either through free microchipping, discounted neutering, supplying their own medications or asking us to work for free. It is not a level playing field. We do not get the funding that they do.
  • [This came in from a vet employed by one of the charities. She asked to remain anonymous.] I have worked for [a large charity providing free veterinary care to the public] on and off for almost eight years. I have helped many animals and clients in need, but in recent years I have noticed how unfair the gap is becoming between operators on the field, vets/nurses/auxiliaries/ volunteers compared to the ones running the charities sitting happily in a luxurious office with all the commodities, things not imaginable for a professional in private as well as in charity practices. I have queried the [charity] once why... managers are paid high salaries when all the time... they are reporting low funds or low resources. As a result of my queries I have been suspended from work for two weeks and gifted with a disciplinary hearing. I have to consider this behaviour childish and personally made just to avoid facing criticism and questions.
  • I cannot agree with you more. I have had many a weird experience over the years, as have you, and I thought that your exercise was more than valid... The last encounter I had with CPL... was treating a kitten, who had to go across town for part two of his vaccine, and then across town to another surgery to be neutered, and all they [the client] wanted to do was avoid taxis and come to us. I queried with CPL, as I actively endorse early neutering, etc., who referred me to the local branch, who just kinda said that they used who they like, and I obviously did not fulfil their criteria.
  • Grrr. Thanks for bringing this up, but I am afraid that it will not make much difference, and as always, if it is down to us to see a Sunday night special, if we refuse we are the enemy, not them.
  • Great article. I totally agree. While I do not mind doing a small amount of work free of charge or at reduced cost, I do take issue with charities expecting us to do it, especially when they publicise it as promoting themselves: the Dogs Trust microchipping campaign was a prime example.
  • I berated the chap on the Dogs Trust stand at BSAVA Congress for their omission that they expect us to do it FOC yet did not acknowledge or thank participating vets on their promotional literature. We would have little or no customer loyalty from new clients coming for their free chip if we took part (which we didn’t), and us losing an income stream – whether we did the chipping or our clients went to a practice doing it FOC, we would not see any benefit from chipping.
  • As far as Cats Protection neutering, I drove past a neighbouring clinic last year. They had a massive banner across their surgery advertising cat castrates for £25 and cat spays for £35. What?! Is this the message we want to send to the public that a cat spay is so easy and low cost, we can do it for £35 and make a profit on £29.16 ex VAT? I have no idea what they are paying vets and nurses at that practice, but it is at least 30 mins of vet/nurse time by the time you’ve checked the cat, given the GA, clipped, prepped, done the surgery, recovered it from GA, seen it out, done post-op checks, never mind the time to clean the set, re-pack it, sterilise it, wash the kennel or bed it has been on, etc. Assuming we are paying £20/hr for a vet and £10 for a nurse, that’s £16.5 of time inc NIC, leaving £12 to cover drugs, post-op pain relief, Elizabethan collar, anaesthetic. Then running costs of the practice – rent, light, heat, computer system, phone, receptionist wages (most practices do not have a nurse answering the phone while they are doing an anaesthetic), etc. – mean that the practice owner is taking a considerable loss on this, and the vet has to charge twice as much to the next patient (assuming it’s not a spay or castrate) to recoup the money.
  • I read several articles this morning: one in the same edition of VP from John Sheridan saying how many practices are making a loss – is it any wonder when vets are being bullied into charging ridiculously low fees for the charity work?
  • I loved your article in Veterinary Practice. Having just told the local RSPCA we will not partake in their neutering campaign for exactly the reasons you cite, we wholeheartedly agree with your comments. I despair at the memorandum of understanding that the BVA agreed (I assume it was them?) with Guide Dogs and the fact that every other assistance dog charity has jumped on the same band wagon.
  • I found your March column mirrors my recent experience with an invite to tender for CPL work. I have always assisted charities in the past as a way of training vets in surgery such as spays. This time I didn’t bother to reply! However, we’ve struggled to recruit vets in the last year and the vets I’ve taken on have cost much more due to a national shortage. Going forward, I can only see vets’ salaries escalating which is desirable, but presents difficulties to general small animal practice with escalating overheads. I have had to increase fees significantly this year.
  • I simply cannot afford to pay vets and nurses a decent salary and do work which costs [me] money, when they need to be doing work where we charge reasonable fees. So your article resonates with this practice owner!
  • Some time ago I conducted similar research into charity employees’ wages and almost spat my Run for Life gum all over my Ice Bucket Challenge T-shirt in shock. All these heads of charities are simply raking it in. But as you say, the marketing teams are (shamelessly) taking salaries of £50k plus each and their job is to “recruit” people to raise money which effectively pays their wages.
  • Ultimately, charity is one of the biggest businesses and industries in the world yet seems to exist mostly to keep people in (lucrative) employment.
  • I am not actually sure they will “get it”; it may fly over their heads. We do not do any Dogs Trust (they are weird and freak me out a bit) or RSPCA work – they go to the cheapest locally but will not go to Vets Now and so have had us out for emergencies and wildlife. My attitude is and has always been if we are not considered worthy of your day work at normal rates then we are not doing your night work either.
  • The smaller charities have been coming for 27 years, since I started in [this town]. I tell them that profit on turnover is 25%, then after the VAT is gone a discount of more than 10% means I am losing money. So take it or leave it.
  • There is a 12-vet PDSA hospital giving it away in [this city]. I am not prepared to compete with that, so I just aim the practice at a higher rung. Interestingly we have done cataracts, laminectomies and TPLOs, etc., for their clients who have paid in cash for those services recently.
  • Thanks for the interesting article re charity subsidies, etc. A few years ago at the BSAVA Congress I chided the rep at the Dogs Trust about the paltry amount their dog neutering vouchers were worth... His reply was, “If vets are fool enough to do it for that, who are we to argue?!” 

Making sense 

I am giving the penultimate word to SPVS, whose comment was the only one from an association that seemed to make some sort of sense of it all. Brian Faulkner, SPVS president, says: “SPVS entirely recognises the ‘dowe- don’t we?’ dilemma practices are faced with when approached and requested for extra discount; not just from charities as per the thrust of this article, but also from the prospective client who requests up-front discount because they are ‘a breeder’ and have ‘lots of dogs’. “The danger with dilemmas like this neutering campaign is that we feel ‘forced to comply’ due to a sense of ‘obligation’ that we should be seen, as vets, to be supporting an animal welfare initiative or that we feel ‘forced to comply’ as business owners in order to negate the immediate risk of losing – or not recruiting – clients. “Viewing this ‘proposal to participate’ from a charity through a mindset of ‘immediacy and obligation’ is no different to giving into your child’s demands for sweets in a supermarket as a short-term solution to avoid their threats of screaming if you don’t! “Ultimately a practice’s decision to form ‘an alliance’ with a charity by participating – or not – in a neutering campaign needs to be viewed as part of their long-term ‘strategic marketing’ plan, just as refusing to give your child sweets right now is to pursue better longer-term benefits for all concerned compared to the short-term returns of immediate gratification. “It is crucial that British practices hold their heads up high and recognise that virtually all UK practices already discount neutering by 75% to support the very animal welfare objectives such campaigns are promoting. I.e. if a bitch spay was charged according to risk, time, professional qualifications and skill required, they would cost £800- 1,000. “Realising this helps put any sense of ‘guilt or shame’ at not being seen to be part of an animal welfare initiative into perspective. Most first opinion (small animal... which is what the article is referring to) practices already cross-subsidise welfare-oriented preventive healthcare services via their income from clinical (i.e. sick animal) work. This means that all veterinary practices need a long-term supply of sick animal patients to be sustainable. One (common) strategy to achieve this is to attract and recruit clients and patients using ‘loss-leader’ preventive healthcare, including neutering, as marketing ‘bait’. This loss-leader alliance may prove to be a very successful strategy if the practice’s long-term marketing strategy is to recruit high numbers of lower-yielding clients that this promotion usually attracts and supplies. “Indeed, such requests for alliances may be seen as a heaven-sent opportunity and the practice may be very happy to further increase their discount on neuterings from 75% up to over 80%. Alternatively, if the practice wishes to avoid – yes, avoid! – the lower-yielding clients that this promotion usually attracts and supplies, because their strategy is to service fewer higher-yielding clients, they are probably better off politely declining the offer to participate... and yet feel psychologically comfortable that they already ‘do their bit’ for charity by virtue of the fact that they already ‘give’ 75% discount on neuterings.” The last word, though, goes to a reader who sent this in: Dear Mr Cross, YOU LEGEND. Excellent series and eagerly awaiting part 3. [xxx] MRCVS