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Y

our heart sinks, as you

realise that your best

friend may be in need

of serious medical

assistance.

Before the introduction of

pet insurance, owners could be

in the heart-breaking situation

of either having to deny their

much-loved dog the treatment

that could save his life, or put

themselves in dire financial

straits to pay for it.

Nowadays, while the

incidence of insurance claims

on a visit to the owner’s vet is

only about 25 per cent, the

figure for a secondary

consultation or referral rises

to 75-80 per cent. Another

business has developed in the

wake of pet insurance: the

referral clinic. Often developed

from a small practice with a

single specialism, but

sometimes purpose-built,

these are the temples of

veterinary miracles – or, more

prosaically, where lives are

saved, the paralysed walk

again and even sight restored.

My local referral clinic is

larger than my local hospital

and certainly employs more

highly qualified staff. To be

called a specialist in this

country, an individual must

have achieved a postgraduate

qualification at least at

Diploma level, and must

additionally satisfy the Royal

College of Veterinary Surgeons

(RCVS) that they make an

active contribution to their

specialty, have national and

international acclaim, and

publish widely in their field.

They also have to reapply for

recognition every five years.

Not surprisingly, it can be

expensive to consult them.

As breeders, we like to know

that the puppies we sell will

never be without appropriate

health care due to a lack of

funds, and advise our clients to

continue the cover that comes

with the puppy, although I have

found that most will look for

cheaper cover. This can prove a

false economy: a quick glance at

the budget end of the market

shows that many policies, with

a fixed limit of £4000 per

condition for instance, after a

number of consultations with

the local vet and diagnostic tests

to assess the condition, are

never going to cover a referral

for a major operation at a top

flight clinic. This can lead to

complaints that the primary vet

spent too much of the insurance

money before suggesting a

referral.

Robin Hargreaves, senior

Vice President of the British

Veterinary Association, says,

“Vets can only start fromwhere

they are, in considering what

route to take to reach a correct

diagnosis – it would very rarely

be the case that a vet would

know a patient required the

expertise of another colleague

without some initial

investigation. For instance,

the local vet may need to take

radiographs to assess the

severity of a fracture. Many

referral centres have particular

specialties, so again some

investigation to identify the

specialist discipline(s) that

would improve diagnosis and

treatment would be very

valuable.” Assessing whether an

insurance policy is going to

meet the bill if the worst

happens is not easy. Those with

long experience of their breed

will be best able to advise their

puppy clients of the risks, but it

can be a tricky conversation.

Having done their homework,

gone to an Assured Breeder

with a reputation for healthy,

well-reared puppies and parted

with several hundred pounds

for their particular bundle of

This month Gay Robertson investigates the referral clinic and that inevitable question…

HEALTH MATTERS

by Gay Robertson

Photo © Dick White Referrals

A quick glance at the

budget end of the

market shows that

many policies, with a

fixed limit of £4000 per

condition for instance,

after a number of

consultations with the

local vet and diagnostic

tests to assess the

condition, are never

going to cover a referral

for a major operation at

a top flight clinic

Photo © Dick White Referrals