Veterinary group acquisition could face in-depth probe by regulator

York-headquartered VetPartners’ completed purchase of Goddard could be referred for an in-depth investigation, after the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) found the deal raises competition concerns.

The CMA opened its investigation into VetPartners acquisition of Goddard Holdco Limited – which trades as Goddard Veterinary Group – in March 2022.

Both firms are providers of veterinary services. VetPartners, owned by the private equity firm BC Partners, operates about 550 sites across the UK, while Goddard, a family-owned business, operates 47 sites in Greater London.

The CMA notes this deal takes place against a backdrop of a small number of corporate groups, including VetPartners, buying up large numbers of independent practices and local chains of vets across the UK.

The regulator says it has received a number of complaints in recent years about higher prices or lower quality services as a result of multiple vets’ practices in the same local area being owned by a single company.

It notes that VetPartners, like most of these corporate groups, not only owns and operates local vet practices, but also has broader activities within the veterinary sector, owning other businesses including diagnostic laboratories, locum agencies, and crematoria.

Following its phase one investigation into VetPartners’ acquisition of Goddard, the CMA has found the merger raises competition concerns in 11 local areas across Greater London.

The CMA’s investigation found the combined businesses would account for a “significant proportion” of veterinary services in each of these areas.

While veterinary practices owned by VetPartners and Goddard currently compete for customers at each of these locations, the CMA is concerned the combined businesses would not face sufficient competition after the merger.

It warns this could lead to pet owners facing a worse quality of service, including more limited treatment options, or having to pay higher prices.

Colin Raftery, senior director of mergers, at the CMA, said: “Close to 60% of UK households own a pet and, when veterinary care is needed, the cost of care can have a significant impact on already-stretched household budgets.

“Like CVS’s recent acquisition of The Vet, VetPartners’ acquisition of Goddard would result in too many vets’ practices in the same area being under the control of a single company, raising the risk of higher prices or lower quality services.

“Unless our concerns are addressed, we will refer this deal for an in-depth investigation to ensure pet owners don’t lose out.”

VetPartners now has five working days to offer legally-binding proposals to the CMA to address the competition concerns identified.

The CMA would then have a further five working days to consider whether to accept these instead of referring the case to a phase two investigation.