Crackdown on doctors failing to show prices

By Robin Stride

Consultants face enforcement action if they continue dragging their feet over supplying data about their private work for public scrutiny.

An increasingly tough approach from the competition watchdog will see them publicly ‘named and shamed’ and taken to court if they fail to respond.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is also warning that some independent hospitals can expect the same fate if they fail to respond.

David Stewart of the CMA

It warned it would take enforcement action against healthcare providers over concerns that pros­pective patients were not being given the ‘essential information they need’.

David Stewart, the CMA’s executive director of markets and mergers, argued that patients needed the information to make important and sometimes difficult choices about their private healthcare.

He announced the stricter approach to consultants’ representatives, hospital providers and insurers at one of the biggest annual gatherings of the independent healthcare sector – LaingBuisson’s Private Acute Healthcare Conference in London.

The CMA says some private operators have failed to supply prospective patients with clear and consistent information that would allow them to compare providers.

Breaching CMA’s ‘Order’

This breaches what is known as the Private Healthcare Order of 2014, a legally binding requirement aimed, among other things, at ensuring patients can access ‘clear and consistent information’ on fees and performance from the organisation set up to publish it: the Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN). 

PHIN collates and publicises this data online, allowing prospective patients to compare healthcare providers by markers such as pricing, customer satisfaction, infection and success rates. 

But eight years on, amid some controversy about the requirement and its ability to give patients all the information they might find useful about hospitals and consultants, some providers have not supplied any data and some doctors do not know what PHIN stands for.

Mr Stewart said: ‘We know this isn’t an easy task for hospitals and consultants. However, hundreds of hospitals and thousands of consultants have already supplied the right information to PHIN. We thank them for working hard to meet this requirement.

Enforcement action

‘There are still some providers that have failed to make any progress or even attempt it. If they now show a commitment to making the changes needed, we will support them to achieve this, alongside PHIN. However, those that continue to fail to can expect to face enforcement action’.

The CMA’s first step would be to name those in breach of the Order and then, it says, to seek the swiftest possible way of addressing their non-compliance.

‘This could be through voluntary commitments from the providers, or, if necessary, the CMA could issue legally binding directions or begin court action.’

Mr Stewart gave a message of thanks at the conference to the ‘thousands of consultants’ who have provided information to PHIN. To those ‘trying to get there but not quite there yet’ he said the CMA wanted to work with them to help.

He told the meeting that nobody at the CMA wanted to take enforcement action, but a significant proportion of consultants had been ignoring the Order. 

Updates on this work can be found on the CMA’s private healthcare market investigation page.

The watchdog has approved a new strategic plan proposed by PHIN aimed at ensuring the industry delivers full compliance with the Order.

A letter from the watchdog to the private healthcare sector last month announced it is set to launch enforcement action and the screw is likely to tighten on the unresponsive (see page seven).

You can check out the CMA’s Private Healthcare Market Investigation Order 2014 at