Earlier this year, the CMA fined a private hospital group £1.2 million for facilitating a price-fixing arrangement for self-pay ophthalmology consultation fees as well as fining 6 consultants involved, we are keen that other private hospital groups and consultants learn from this case and avoid making similar mistakes.
Our concern is that other private hospitals and healthcare centres could be caught up in similar illegal behaviour, and that healthcare managers could even mistakenly believe that such agreements are in the best interests of their independent service providers.
We nevertheless believe that the majority of businesses and those working in private healthcare, including managers and doctors, want to do the right thing. The good news is that advice is at hand to help you recognise what anti-competitive practices look like and how to avoid them.
In this blog, I will dispel dangerous misconceptions around the law, highlight what you need to do to ensure you don’t fall foul of it and how you can encourage wider compliance.
Understanding the law applies to you
Firstly, everyone needs to be clear that competition rules apply to private healthcare just as they do to any businesses that compete in a marketplace. This includes how independent medical consultants and other service providers interact with each other and with private health service managers. Not knowing or understanding how the law applies to you is no excuse. All managers must understand what is and isn’t allowed when bringing different consultants together and set clear ground rules for what can and can’t be discussed or agreed when they do so.
The consequences of breaking the law are serious as the recent ophthalmology price fixing case proves. If you are caught instigating, participating in or facilitating anti-competitive practices you could face fines of up to 10% of annual global turnover and company directors could be banned from acting as a director for up to 15 years. In the most serious criminal cases, individuals could even face prison.
Re-cap on what you can't do under competition law
- It is illegal to fix prices or share future pricing information with competing service providers such as between independent consultants/ doctors in private practice or between private healthcare groups.
- It is illegal to facilitate price fixing agreements between independent consultants in private practice by suggesting or allowing an arrangement where competing service providers coordinate or agree to fix prices for their patients.
- Equally it is illegal to facilitate the exchange of commercially sensitive pricing information, or sharing of future pricing information, between competing independent consultants in private practice.
Promoting best practice
Many private healthcare firms will have their own legal specialists and directors who understand the law, but this knowledge doesn’t always filter down to middle and junior managers. It is critical that everyone is clear on competition rules and are given regular training on what is and isn’t allowed in terms of managing conduct between different private medical consultants who are essentially in competition with one another.
Managers and hospital groups play an important role in being able to share knowledge and promote compliance.
I strongly recommend that you read and relay the following short advice with your networks, including consultant groups:
- Private medical professionals: information on competition law
- Private medical professionals: information about fees
If you think you could be at risk of breaking the law – always seek independent legal advice.
For more information on how best to spot and report anti-competitive practices visit: gov.uk/cheating-or-competing