VetStrategy lays off veterinarians, support staff in Canada

Owner IVC Evidensia also is axing hundreds of support roles in UK

August 17, 2023 (published)

IVC Evidensia has laid off a small number of veterinarians at its VetStrategy business in Canada, citing changes in demand, and is cutting hundreds of support-staff roles in Canada and the United Kingdom combined.

The layoffs indicate that rising cost-of-living pressures may be tempering demand for veterinary care or are, at least, changing the calculus for corporate consolidators that paid top dollar for veterinary practices during a pandemic pet boom.

IVC Evidensia, based in Bristol, England, owns around 2,600 practices worldwide, many located in the United Kingdom and mainland Europe. In 2021, it acquired Canada's VetStrategy, marking a bold move into North America that added more than 270 practices across nine Canadian provinces.

VetStrategy continuously works "to make sure our practices have the right level of resources, according to the needs of their local market," the company said in a statement to the VIN News Service. "As a result, in July we took the difficult decision to temporarily lay off a small number of employees, although no permanent decisions have been made as we continue to assess changing market conditions."

VetStrategy laid off "fewer than 10" veterinarians and "around 70" support staff, according to a person familiar with the company's actions who provided the information on condition of anonymity. The layoffs are temporary, they said, meaning the affected staff may be invited to return to their roles at a later date.

According to a letter to an employee seen by VIN News, the company said they were laid off "due to recent business circumstances and changes in demand for veterinary care." The company added that it did not anticipate that the duration of the layoff would exceed the maximum of six months allowable under provincial law. "We know this is a difficult time, however your contributions to the company remain top of mind for us and we are hopeful to call you back to work as soon as possible."

In brief

The laid-off VetStrategy staff member, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid potential reprisal from the company, said they hadn't noticed any drop-off in demand at their practice. "So in terms of inflation not bringing people in, I am not sure if that is the answer," they said. The company, the person added, has been upping prices regularly. "We have had price increases every three to four months, which we fight them on every time, as it is getting ridiculous for owners. We have also increased our markup on medications."

The employee expressed concern that quality of care has diminished, giving them the impression that the company is focusing too heavily on reducing costs.

IVC Evidensia is making deeper cuts in the U.K., though not of any "frontline" staff such as veterinarians and veterinary nurses, the person familiar with the company's actions said. Demand for veterinarians in the U.K., they added, remains high, and the company still is hiring practitioners there.

Rather, IVC Evidensia's cuts in the U.K. stem from two other areas. In May, it decided to outsource its global finance function, a move it plans to complete by the end of this year. The company hasn't said how many job losses may be involved. The British Veterinary Union estimates it could be as many as 400.

In addition, layoffs of support staff such as receptionists and veterinary assistants in the U.K. will number in "the low hundreds," the person said. Those layoffs, they added, address an imbalance between the number of veterinarians and support staff that emerged post pandemic "because of the Covid restrictions that required a different mix of staff within clinics."

The British Veterinary Union disagrees with that assessment, maintaining that IVC Evidensia has based the move on a "dangerous and outdated ratio of one vet to 1.2 support staff."

The profession is "critically understaffed," and many veterinarians and veterinary nurses are working unpaid overtime, the union's chairperson, Suzanna Hudson Cooke, said in a press release. "They rely on excellent support staff to undertake all those essential tasks needed to run a clinic, so that their time can be focused on providing clinical care," she said. "How can IVC expect a veterinary nurse to answer the phones and organise appointments while monitoring a general anaesthetic, taking a radiograph, or handling a distressed animal, with no increased risk to the animals?"

Mixed signals for veterinary job market

The extent to which layoffs at IVC Evidensia are due to any meaningful drop in demand for veterinary care in Canada, the U.K. or elsewhere is unclear. It's not unusual for corporations to eliminate overlapping administrative roles after making big acquisitions or bring cultural changes that can result in some redundancies.

Moreover, much of the consolidation in the veterinary profession is being driven by private equity firms, which aim to generate high returns on investment and have a reputation as no-nonsense cost cutters. IVC Evidensia is controlled by Swedish private equity firm EQT and counts food giant Nestlé as a minority shareholder.

At least one other private equity-backed consolidator is mulling cutting roles in the U.K. VetPartners confirmed that a restructure at recently acquired London-focused business Goddard Veterinary Group has placed some back-office roles "at risk."

"Whilst continuing to invest widely in clinical roles across our London branches, the impact of external economic factors, such as interest rate rises and inflation, has led to the need to review, restructure and realign a number of back-office roles," VetPartners said in a statement. The potential layoffs at Goddard were first reported by Vet Times.

Mars Inc., a privately held conglomerate that owns more than 2,500 veterinary practices worldwide, said in a statement to VIN News that demand for veterinary care "remains high" in most of the markets in which it operates and that "many veterinary teams are stretched thin." Mars added that it is actively recruiting veterinarians at its VCA, Banfield and BluePearl businesses in the U.S.

"We believe the staffing challenges facing the veterinary workforce will remain an issue for our industry, especially considering the projections by most research providers that pet healthcare spending is only expected to increase," the company said, while pointing to research it commissioned last year that predicts nearly 41,000 more companion animal veterinarians will be needed in the U.S. by 2030.

Another large owner of practices in the United States and Canada, National Veterinary Associates, said its company policy is "not to comment on personnel or HR-related matters."

The job market for veterinarians in the U.S. still appears to be relatively tight, by the reckoning of John Volk, an analyst at Chicago-based animal-health consultancy Brakke Consulting. "I've heard a number of people comment that the vet shortage is easing a bit in the U.S., as expected," he said in an email. "However, it's still a seller's market."

Dr. Lori Teller, the outgoing president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, indicated in a commentary published last month that pandemic-related stressors and high demand for services are moderating. "We are seeing the number of clinic visits, new patients, and new clients returning to pre-pandemic levels," Teller wrote. "This suggests a normalization of demand."

Aug. 19 clarification: This article has been changed to remove a photograph of a VetStrategy practice where layoffs have not occurred. VIN News regrets using the image and apologizes for any confusion it may have caused.

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