Competition Authority to take legal action against Irish Medical Organisation

Move follows GPs’ plan to withdraw from certain services over Government fee cuts

Minister for Health James Reilly announced cuts in payments to GPs of about 7.5 per cent on average earlier this month. Photograph:  Hugh Macknight/PA Wire

Minister for Health James Reilly announced cuts in payments to GPs of about 7.5 per cent on average earlier this month. Photograph: Hugh Macknight/PA Wire

Tue, Jul 16, 2013, 14:11

The Competition Authority has begun legal action against the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) over plans by its GP members to withdraw from certain services in protest at new fee cuts.

The Competition Authority had set a deadline of midday on Monday for the IMO to publish an undertaking to reverse its planned action.

However, it said that following the expiry of this deadline, it had received correspondence from the IMO’s solicitors saying that the doctors’ trade union would not be complying with the request.

“In light of this development, the Authority has today (TUES)filed papers in the High Court seeking (i) a declaration that the IMO’s decision to withdraw the services concerned with a view to preventing the Minister for Health and Children from reducing the fees payable under the GMS contract is prohibited under both Irish and EU competition law and is therefore void and (ii) an interlocutory injunction requiring the IMO to retract and rescind its decision of 8 July and not to issue any further decisions to the same or similar effect and (iii) to remove from the IMO’s website its press release of 10 July relating to this matter and to publish on its website an open undertaking to reverse its decision of 8 July. The relevant papers are being served on the solicitors acting for the IMO in this matter.”

The Competition Authority said a hearing of its interlocutory application was expected to take place within the next week.

Earlier this month, Minister for Health James Reilly announced further cuts in payments to GPs of about 7.5 per cent on average under financial emergency legislation.

The IMO said subsequently, following an emergency meeting, that its GPs members would withdraw from primary care teams, community intervention teams and clinical care programmes for chronic diseases. It also said it would pull out of any work not covered under the terms of their contract with the HSE.

The Competition Authority later wrote to the IMO and warned that, in its view, its response to the fee cuts amounted to a breach of competition law.

GPs operating the medical card and other State schemes are not employees of the health service but rather are independent contractors.

In a statement issued last week, the Competition Authority said: “The authority is of the view that the press release issued by the IMO makes it clear that the withdrawal of these services is directly linked to the decision of the Government to cut fees paid to GPs. Withdrawing services, regardless of claims that they may be free or pro bono, is viewed as an attempt to directly or indirectly fix the fees that are paid to GPs by the Government under the GMS contract.

“Self-employed GPs are subject to competition law, as they are private businesses, unlike employees who may act collectively, represented by a union and are not subject to competition law.”