On 3 December 2015, the Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) wrote an open letter to private medical practitioners in the UK stressing the importance of making independent commercial decisions and warning against unlawful collaboration with competitors.
The open letter follows soon after the CMA’s finding in August 2015 that the Consultant Eye Surgeons Partnership (“CESP”) was responsible for creating anti-competitive pricing agreements across their extensive network of surgeons and medical partnerships; a decision which highlighted an evident lack of competition law awareness within the medical profession. We reported on that decision in this previous post.
Section 9 of the Competition Act 1998 provides that working together or in a group will not necessarily be unlawful; collaboration may be legal where it contributes to improving production or distribution, or promoting technical or economic progress, while allowing consumers a fair share of the resulting benefit, as long as it doesn’t either impose on the undertakings concerned restrictions which are not indispensable to the attainment of those objectives or afford the undertakings concerned the possibility of eliminating competition in respect of a substantial part of the products in question.
However, the CMA warns medical consultants working in the independent sector that they may be in breach of competition law where they coordinate prices with their competitors, agree to share markets or customers, discuss sensitive commercial information, or share their future commercial plans.
The CMA has also produced a 60-second short summary and short guides for private medical practitioners in their campaign to facilitate compliance with competition law.
The price that patients and healthcare providers pay for medical care must represent good value for money and, with that in mind, the CMA provides that contraventions of competition law can lead to fines up to 10% of a business’ turnover, disqualification from acting as a director for up to 15 years, and imprisonment for up to 5 years.