Real life

How to make a vet blush

It’s easy: just ask how much they charge to remove a pea-sized cyst from a spaniel

30 January 2016

9:00 AM

30 January 2016

9:00 AM

My attempt to have a small cyst removed from the spaniel was always going to be fraught with difficulty. My vets are in a posh area of London and have a name that sounds like a multinational reinsurance broker. This is because similar amounts of money go through their books.

To save their blushes, let’s call them Simon Fleece and Associates. When I call, the line rings a few times, then there is a pause before it begins to ring again in a different tone. When it answers, a girl says: ‘Simon Fleece and Associates answering service how may I help?’ My formerly friendly local vet is now so big and money-grubbing it has a separate call centre to take overflow calls, I realise. I am very, very scared.

I tell her I want to book an appointment and she says she will take my details and the time I want and get the receptionists to call me back to confirm. First I suggest 4.30 p.m. the next day and then, when I realise I can’t make that, I say: ‘Actually, I need to make it later.’

And she says: ‘So, do you want to move the appointment forward or back?’

‘Forward. No back. No, wait, I can’t work out which. But, as I say, I want to make it later than 4.30 p.m.’

‘I’m sorry, but I do need to get this clear,’ she says testily. ‘Do you want to move the appointment forward or back?’

‘I want an appointment later than 4.30,’ I say.

‘All right, there’s no need to be rude,’ she says, availing herself of her human rights already. ‘So you want to move the appointment forward?’

‘Do I?’ I say, my head aching from the mental effort of divining whether later than 4.30 is forward or back on the space-time continuum. ‘Isn’t later back? Or is it forward?’


I realise that I could be on the phone arguing about the meaning of later than
4.30 p.m. until Stephen Hawking intervenes. So I tell her to just get them to call me and slam the phone down. Eventually, the receptionist calls me back and confirms that I am being allocated a 5.30 p.m. appointment, which is what I thought I wanted although now all I really want is to work out whether 5.30 p.m. is forwards or back from 4.30 p.m.

When I arrive at the surgery the next day I am still pondering time’s arrow and the asymmetry of existence as the spaniel leaps on to the scales by the reception desk to try to reach the treats on the counter. ‘Oh, how funny! Is she trying to weigh herself?’ giggles the receptionist.

‘I guess so,’ I say, wearily, as it is best to enter into it.

Inside the consulting room, the keen young vet has a feel and confirms the pea-sized cyst has to come out. ‘When can you do it?’ I ask anxiously. ‘Tomorrow morning 8 a.m.?’ he suggests, twitching a bit weirdly.

The next morning, I take her back and have just handed her over to be led out the back by the giggling receptionist when I think to ask: ‘Oh, and can you give me an estimate?’

You could have heard a pin drop. The vet turns bright red and says: ‘But I thought you were insured.’

‘Yes,’ I say, ‘but even so, I’d like to know.’

The receptionist starts faffing and huffing as if this is all most inconvenient and after a few moments she slaps a piece of paper down on the counter with a figure written on it: £1,100 exc. VAT.

‘No, you don’t understand,’ I laugh nervously. ‘I don’t want you to take a cyst out of me. I want you to operate on the dog!’

They don’t see the funny side. They stare at me accusingly so I say ‘fine, see you later,’ and shuffle out. Then I sit in the car thinking, ‘Eleven hundred pounds, not including VAT.’ And I repeat that phrase over and over as my brain tries to digest the full meaning of it.

At first, it is more difficult to comprehend than whether 5.30 p.m. is forward or back from 4.30 p.m. but thankfully I grasp it quite quickly and as the light bulb pings on over my head I leap out of the car and run back into the vets.

‘Give me back my dog!’ I exclaim. ‘I’m going to get a second opinion.’

The vet comes out of his consulting room, his face flushed deepest maroon.

‘I think they’ve already put the tubes in,’ he says, hurrying out the back.

I bet they have, I think. They couldn’t even wait five minutes to get those tubes into my dog so they could start extracting cash.

He returns with a happily wiggling Cydney on a lead, thankfully not dragging a drip.

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  • davidshort10

    Why not use a vet out in the country?

    • Todd Unctious

      Why not getvrid of the dog? Dreadful dirty beasts.

      • The Laughing Cavalier

        Better a dog than most people.

        • Todd Unctious

          You suggest some people are little more than dogs. A misplaced perspective can lead to voting UKIP.

          • The Laughing Cavalier

            An illogical response.

  • Most city vet practices have been taken over by large money grubbing conglomerates. Part of their strategy is to retain the original family vet branding of the firms they take over so it still looks like you are dealing with a friendly 1960s, long established firm whose main interest is in looking after your dog or cat. In fact, they employ a string of young vets who are severely incentivised to boost the bill you will eventually have extorted from you. I totally lost confidence in the vest around here over the last few years. I was charged £500 for tests for the deadly pancreatitis when I took my two year old Border Terrier dog to the vets. Having been relived of this money the treatment was a lifetime on expensive food. A year later I went elsewhere and his grumbling problem turned out to be a simple gastrointestinal infection, cured by a single handed vet practice for £50 including VAT. The dog has never looked back. When I mentioned my hostility and suspicion of the previous vet and others I had seen, this guy in his small self employed practice, confided that he had worked at all of the places I mentioned before setting up on his own and said they were all run by the same outfit and that the employee vets were obliged and incentivised to talk up the need for expensive treatments and penalised if they didn’t rake in enough cash. Needless to say, I am keen to hold onto this guy – not that the dog has had to go back there much. At least I know I am dealing with an honest man and if he says we deed to do something I can be sure we do need to.

    • Flintshire Ian

      I moved back to a vet who is a personal friend, but who had advised us to register closer to home in case of emergency. The previous practice that we used is now largely run by the head man’s daughter who is probably – as you say – more interested in the money. It’s worth the car journey for good treatment by a dog and cat specialist who isn’t driven by “How much can I get away with charging?”

  • Flintshire Ian

    Our staffie/ beagle cross developed a small cyst on her lower back. The vet that I had used for many years was too keen on surgery by half. So I got a second opinion, a tube of cream and the message that unless the dog is shown, the cyst is unlikely to be an issue as the back isn’t first through the hedge and to just keep an eye on it. Which I have over the last three years.
    Slightly off topic – this morning I cancelled the dog’s pet insurance policy, having decided to self insure from renewal next month. The premium has more than doubled over the 8 years or so that she has been insured, despite making no claims. For a dog over 9 years of age, (she is 12) not only is there a limit of £1000 per claim (annual limit £3k), but a £300 excess plus 20% of the value of the claim. For a premium of nearly £450 per annum. The only potential value of the policy is third party liability and as we don’t let her off the lead in public anymore (she doesn’t like other dogs – but we have a large enclosed garden to run around) and I don’t let strangers stroke her, that risk is small enough to accept.

    • Mary Ann

      Can’t you get third party insurance on your house and contents policy.

      • Flintshire Ian

        I think that is probably true. If we aren’t already covered it will be cheaper to add on specifically than to continue the pet policy.

  • haark

    I qualified as a vet. over 40 years ago. The first few years were in some ways quite idyllic-you could be a generalist, treating farm animals as well as pets, and be much more highly regarded than a GP-and reminded of the fact on a weekly basis.
    Often this was justified. We all had occasion to listen to a client describing their symptoms and GP’s diagnosis, and would afterwards discuss it over a beer and realise that the GP had got it horribly wrong-although doing anything about it was a bit fraught.
    Apart from TB and brucellosis testing, and vaccination cards for dogs and cats, the job was delightfully paperwork-free.
    Almost all of us charged a fee for work that we thought was reasonable-there were few money-grubbers. Most of us realised how privileged we were to enjoy our work.
    The cloud no bigger than a man’s hand-pet insurance- appeared in the late ’70s. The premium, IIRC, was £1 a year!- very obviously a loss leader.
    I was continually pestered to persuade clients to take it up. I refused, for the simple reason that it was obvious what effect it would have on the profession. Sure enough, we are now regarded as covetous types who, just like U.S. private health care medics, carry out unnecessary testing and expensive treatment knowing that the client’s insurance-now charging £100+ a year!-will pay up.
    I retired several years ago, after running a single-handed practice for 25 years, from a profession that was very, very different from the one I had entered. My wife and I both realised I was going a little bit barmy- although I am now lead to believe that sanity has returned.
    How much would I have charged to remove a simple cyst from a dog prior to my retirement?. Obviously I don’t know the circumstances, but for same day in-day out work, a GA, removal, stitches, maybe a shot of A/B and taking the stitches out- £150 max whether insured or not-I told my clients not to bother with it.

  • Jane Martinsford

    I’ve found the best treatment for sebaceous cysts on my dog is to use baby wipes. Squeeze like a volcano, wide at the base, underneath, up and out. Thoroughly clean with baby wipes and they soon dry up on their own. Packet of baby wipes costs less than a pound.

    • haark

      Dead right. I used to do just the same. Pop them when they’re ripe, tell the owner to give them a daily squeeze for a week, and keep them clean. Nature will do the rest.

  • David S

    There are only really four multinational reinsurance brokers: Marsh, Aon, Willis and JLT. Does your vet’s name really sound like any of them?

  • Sandvik

    I’m afraid I don’t agree with this. Medical care is expensive. You don’t realise this because in this country because you have a free NHS. Did you know a hospital bed costs thousands of pounds a day to run? Seeing your GP in private practice costs £200, and that’s just for a 15min consultation. Want an x-ray? that’s £300 please. The vets are only charging for a service, commensurate with their expertise, having spent years at vet school and further specialist training. Drugs are expensive, machines are expensive (MRI machines and X-rays can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds), and yes, the medical care and skill offered by the vet is expensive. Why shouldn’t it be?

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