19 November 1999

Cheaper drugs, but vets time dearer

VET and medicine costs have been turned upside down by a vet practice in Cheshire which hopes to provide a cheaper, more cost-effective service.

Instead of charging producers high prices for drugs and relatively inexpensive fees for vet time, the newly formed practice, Lambert and Leonard, Wrenbury, Nantwich, will reduce the cost of medicines and charge professional rates for their time.

Partner Den Leonard says the practices clients are happier with the arrangement. "Because the majority of vet costs are made up of drug costs, it is popular with all livestock sectors," he says.

Despite charging hourly rates similar to solicitors fees – £110-£140/hour, according to FW research – this has not discouraged producers from calling vets out, says Mr Leonard. "We found the opposite, most are more organised when the vet comes out to the farm. Animals have been ready and we can get through work quickly meaning our fees are better value."

Drugs will not be supplied without any visits at all, but the practice is giving free phone and casual advice, says Mr Leonard.

The move, which has upset other local practices, could change the way vets charge producers around the country. "It will also reduce pressure to buy drugs illegally and encourage closer ties between vets and producers."

Royal Vet Colleges Mac Johnston says charges have to go this way because vet practices and farming needs to be credible in the publics eyes to get out of the current crisis.

There is a need for charges to be transparent, but it is two-sided: "Producers will have to pay for every minute of vets time, so there will be little time wasting, and vets will have to deliver a service."

Any concern that animal welfare may be compromised because vets might be called out less frequently to farms were scotched by ADAS consultant Brian Pocknee.

"The change may even improve welfare. Because drug costs are less it is more likely that animals may be treated for longer and finish the prescribed course which would improve their chances of recovery."

Although Prof Johnstone believes there will be little difference in the total cost, Berkshire farm manager Mark Osman welcomed the initiative. "It is high time this action was taken. It is very promising as some of the highest input costs in dairying are vet and med costs."

He says vet and med costs him £21 a cow including vet time, and drugs make-up at least £11 a cow of this, because of dry cow therapy and leptospirosis vaccine.

"I think that I could save some money and would like to see my vet practice adopt a similar charging policy." &#42

VETCHARGES

&#8226 Higher hourly rate.

&#8226 Cheaper drugs.

&#8226 Free telephone advice.