Competition body levies substantial fine on eye surgeon organisation

Consultant Eye Surgeons Partnership (CESP) has been fined in excess of £380k after it admitted to several breaches of competition law between 2008 and 2015 following an investigation carried out by regulator the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA).

With over 200 members and 37 partnerships across the country the national organisation, based in Wiltshire, claims to be the largest group of consultant eye surgeons practicing privately in the UK.

According to the CMA the infringements, which took place between September 2008 and May of this year, included making recommendations to members to refuse to accept lower fees offered by an insurer, and to charge insured patients higher self pay fees; as well as facilitating the sharing of consultants’ future pricing and business intentions.

In addition, detailed price lists for ophthalmic procedures such as cataract surgery to be used with insurers were circulated. The CMA said these collectively set prices did not pass on lower local costs, and made it harder for insurers and patients to obtain lower prices.

The fine, which was originally issued at £500k, was reduced to £382k in light of CESP’s efforts to adopt a ‘comprehensive compliance programme’.

Today, corporate accountability campaigners welcomed the move to fine the organisation, with leading consumer rights’ lawyers at Leigh Day saying that any measure to punish a lack of fair practice was a ‘step in the right direction’.

Chris Haan from the firm’s consumer rights’ team said: “This fine and the sanctions imposed to ensure that the CESP is compliant with competition law moving forward is a significant step in the right direction, and must serve as a reminder to other organisations – especially those operating in a regulated and specialist sectors – that no one is exempt.”

Following the announcement of the fine the CESP issued a statement saying that it had cooperated with the CMA throughout its investigation and is ‘taking steps to ensure that its members and staff are fully aware of the requirements of competition law’.

Later this month the CMA will publish a non-confidential version of the investigation that is expected to give further details of the effects of CESP’s breaches on patients, including the number of people affected.

Chris Haan continued: “If a substantial number of patients paid too much for ophthalmic procedures performed by CSEP members it may be possible for affected patients to bring a class action against CSEP to recover their losses by utilising the new competition law class action scheme that will come in to force on the 1st of October.”

Speaking to press the CMA’s Senior Director of Antitrust Enforcement, Ann Pope, said that the decision demonstrates the regulator’s willingness to pursue anti-competitive activity across a wide range of markets, including regulated and specialist sectors.

She said: "Over the next few months we will work with businesses in this sector to help ensure they understand what they need to do to comply with competition law."