HSE not breaching law over ambulance

Wed, Oct 24, 2012, 01:00

THE HEALTH Service Executive has not breached competition laws in pursuing a policy of phasing out its use of private ambulance services for emergencies and transporting public patients to hospital, the High Court has ruled.

Mr Justice John Cooke found the Competition Act 2002 did not require the HSE to continue to purchase a minimum level of services from outside private contractors so as to preserve their presence in the market.

The HSE cannot be required to continue to use and pay for services from private operators that it did not need, he said. To compel the HSE to do so would result in inefficiencies caused by underuse of its own National Ambulance Service.

The judge was ruling on key preliminary issues in the action by Lifeline Ambulance Service Ltd, with registered offices at Leixlip, Co Kildare, arising from moves by the HSE to eventually do away with reliance on private ambulance services.

Lifeline, which has provided ambulance services to the HSE since 1999, had challenged a HSE decision of 2008 to terminate an agreement with it for such services. The company, which employs 68 people, said it was facing substantial losses if the agreement was terminated.

In his detailed judgment, Mr Justice Cooke said the central legal issue was whether a public authority, if it was operating as “an undertaking” under section 5 of the Competition Act 2002, was required to continue to purchase a minimum level of services from outside private contractors so as to preserve those companies in the relevant market.To qualify as an “undertaking” under the Act, the HSE must be engaged “for gain” in supplying the National Ambulance Service but it was not, he found.