Group’s big fine is warning to all

An opthalmologists’ membership group fined a six-figure sum for breaching competition law is taking steps to ensure members and staff are fully aware of legal requirements in future.

Consultant Eye Surgeons Part­ner­ship (CESP) Ltd said its board was putting a ‘comprehensive competition law compliance programme’ in place and was committed to ensuring compliance.

It declined to add to a prepared statement until at least after board members meet next month.

CESP was fined £500,000, reduced to £382,000, by the Competition and Markets Auth­ority (CMA) after admitting liability for a number of infringements:

  • Recommending its members refuse to accept lower fees offered by an insurer, and that they charge insured patients higher self-pay fees.
  • Circulating among members detailed price lists for ophthalmic procedures such as cataract surgery to be used with insurers. These collectively-set prices did not pass on lower local costs – such as cheaper hospital fees – and made it harder for insurers and patients to obtain lower prices.
  • Facilitating the sharing of consultants’ future pricing and business intentions such as whether to sign up to a private hospital group’s package price, which enabled members to align their responses.

CMA’s reduced fine involved discounts for adopting a compliance programme and settlement.

CESP, representing interests of 37 limited liability partnerships (LLPs) and their 200 consultant members, said it co-operated with the CMA throughout.

It provides members with a number of services including access to CESP-negotiated contracts with insurers. Each LLP has a board representative.

The CMA’s Ann Pope said this was the first time formal competition law enforcement action had been taken against medical professionals in the UK.

She 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.’

The CMA hoped other professional membership organisations would note the case and  ensure they operated without infringing competition law.

It will work with businesses in the sector to ensure they understand how to comply.