A membership organisation for private ophthalmologists has been fined £500,000 for a string of breaches to competition law stretching back to 2008. The decision marks the first formal competition law enforcement action taken against medical professionals in the UK.
The Consultant Eye Surgeons Partnership (CESP), which represents 200 ophthalmologists from 37 limited liability partnerships, was fined by the government’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) following an investigation of several breaches related to the price setting of ophthalmological services.
Among the services offered to CESP members is access to CESP-negotiated contracts with private medical insurers.
The CMA reports a number of infringements from the organisation dating back to 2008. These include recommending members to refuse lower fees from insurers, and charge insured patients higher self-pay fees. The organisation also reportedly distributed detailed pricing lists for ophthalmic procedures to its members for use with insurers. According to the CMA, this made it harder for insurers and patients to obtain lower prices.
The CESP has reportedly made a number of proposals to the government body “to implement a comprehensive compliance programme.” The fine will be reduced to £425,000, if the organisation continues to cooperate, with further reductions possible pending the CMA’s final decision.
CMA’s senior director of antitrust enforcement, Ann Pope, said: “This case demonstrates the CMA’s commitment to taking action in specialised and regulated sectors, including the professions, and makes it clear that membership organisations and their members are not outside the scope of competition law or its penalties.”
Ms Pope added: “We hope that other professional membership organisations will take note of this case and take steps to ensure they operate in a way that does not infringe competition law.”