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Group of private eye surgeons fined £0.5m for breaching competition law

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h4278 (Published 06 August 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h4278
  1. Nigel Hawkes
  1. 1London

The United Kingdom’s largest group of eye surgeons has been fined £500 000 (€720 000; $780 000) for breaches of competition law in the first such case brought against UK medical professionals.

Consultant Eye Surgeons Partnership, which represents 37 consultant partnerships and more than 200 consultants, admitted a series of offences between September 2008 and May 2015. These included recommending members not to accept lower fees offered by an insurer, recommending that they charge higher fees to insured patients than to patients who pay themselves, circulating price lists for procedures such as cataract surgery, and sharing future pricing and business intentions, such as whether to sign up to a private hospital’s package price.

In recognition of the partnership’s adoption of a compliance programme, the Competition and Markets Authority applied a discount of 10% to the fine, with a further discount of 15% for cooperating, resulting in a final bill of £382 500.

The partnership was set up in Bristol in 2003 and was joined by other partnerships across the UK. In 2007 CESP Ltd, a company formed to provide administrative and business support to the partnerships, was established. The company is chaired by David Etchells, consultant ophthalmologist at the Royal Bournemouth Hospital, who also practises at the Bournemouth Private Clinic. He has been a director of the company for seven years and became chairman in 2014.

In response to the fine the partnership said, “CESP has cooperated with the CMA [Competition and Markets Authority] throughout its investigation and is taking steps to ensure that its members and staff are fully aware of the requirements of competition law. In particular, as a result of the CMA’s investigation, the CESP Board is putting in place a comprehensive competition law compliance programme, and the Board is firmly committed to ensuring that CESP complies with competition law going forward.”

Ann Pope, senior director of antitrust enforcement at the Competition and Markets Authority, said, “This is the first time formal competition law enforcement action has been taken against medical professionals in the UK. 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.

“We welcome CESP Ltd’s cooperation with the CMA’s investigation and its commitment to introducing a compliance programme, and 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.”

The most recent accounts of the company, for the year ended 31 May 2014, show net assets of £163 780, so it is likely that the members have had to provide additional capital to pay the fine.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h4278

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