I think we can all agree that the NHS is a great institution. Sure, it has its flaws, but all of us have benefitted from the care provided as a result of the vision of Nye Bevan and his contemporaries 70 odd years ago. From the first breath we took in this world, it is likely we were cared for by the fantastic staff and structure of our National Health Service. The great vision of universal healthcare, while being hard to implement, is not found wanting in its ambition. The NHS touches us at each point in our lives, and is often there when we are at our most vulnerable. Just like your vet is there for the low points in the life of your beloved pet.
A common question at Vet School interviews is “Should there be an NHS for animals?”. The idea is tantalizing. One of the big differences between veterinary medicine and human medicine is that you have to pay your vet. You pay your doctor too, but the cost is “hidden” in the taxes that you and others pay. The advantages of a “Pet NHS” are obvious – a nationally implemented vaccination strategy, similar to the measles vaccine, could protect puppies from parvo and kittens from cat ‘flu. Cost would not be a barrier to pet owners seeking veterinary help, and being able to opt for the very best treatments available. Vets could focus on just making your pet better, rather than having to run a business at the same time.
The downsides are perhaps less obvious. Who would pay for such a service? How would they pay? Is it fair that non animal owners would pay a tax that only animal owners would benefit from? If such a service were provided from national taxation, then which other area would the money be taken from? Would a service that is free encourage wasteful behaviour? I don’t have the answers here, but it is interesting to think through the idea, and the alternatives.
Given the current economic climate, it is unlikely that a “Pet’s NHS” will ever come to fruition. We have the next best thing at the minute – insurance and health clubs. Pet Insurance helps pet owners to guard against unexpected pet illness. Pet Health Clubs, like the one at Downe Vets, help owner’s to spread the cost of vaccines and flea / worm treatments at a discount to their regular “up front” cost. Perhaps our politicians will chip in with help with pet care, like exempting it from VAT to make it more affordable for the bulk of the population, like some medical care. In the meantime it is worth remembering that healthcare is not free, and your health and your pet’s health is precious. Look after it. It’s a gift.