The Veterinary Practice (Amendment) Bill passed the second stage in the Dáil last week with cross-party support, and would see vets be the sole owners of veterinary practices in Ireland.

The bill, brought forward by Fianna Fáil TD for Tipperary Jackie Cahill, would ensure that veterinary practices can only be owned by licenced vets, preventing private corporate entities from buying up the sector.

It received near unanimous support from both the Government and opposition benches. It will proceed to committee stage in the autumn.

“I am delighted to receive cross-party support for the amendments I am proposing to the Veterinary Practice Act. For me, there are three main reasons that it is important we ensure that vet practices remain in the ownership of licenced veterinary practitioners.

“Firstly, the Veterinary Council of Ireland must be able to regulate vet practices, and that is only possible when these practices are in the ownership of licenced vets. The council would have no regulatory power over practices that are in corporate ownership, because their domain only extends to licenced vets. We must retain this very important regulation over the sector for animal welfare reasons, among others.

“Secondly, we need to ensure that the profession is attractive for young vets to enter into it. This will not be the case if there are no clear career profession paths for young people to be attracted to the profession."

Corporate structure

“Finally, in countries such as the UK, where we have seen the corporate structure take hold, we have seen the cost of services increase while the quality dramatically reduces. For animal welfare standards, we cannot allow a situation to develop where it is almost impossible to get a vet during the night.

“This, to me, would raise serious animal welfare concerns if a farmer couldn’t get a vet out to the farm during the night when they need one,” he said.

Cahill pointed to precedent in other sectors to justify restricting ownership of practices to practitioners, saying that in the pharmaceutical industry, licenced pharmacists have to own pharmacies.

This in turn prevents a corporate model from taking hold here also, he said, adding that: “This is by no means a novel idea to do the same with veterinary practices, but it works.”