The Competition Authority and Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) have settled a court case over whether the IMO could enter into talks with the government on behalf of its members.

The IMO is the representative body for the medical profession in Ireland, including self-employed GPs.  On behalf of its GP members, the IMO negotiates the General Medical Service Contract with the Health Service Executive (HSE), under which GPs contract to provide general practice medical services to certain patients in return for payment.

The issue arose over the IMO’s refusal to rescind a decision published on its website recommending that GPs withdraw certain services, including primary care teams and clinical care programmes, in protest at proposed government cuts to fees paid to GPs.

The Competition Authority brought civil enforcement proceedings under Irish competition law, claiming that the IMO was organising a collective boycott by GPs. The Authority maintained that the withdrawal of services by GPs would restrict supply on the market and distort competition.

Under the settlement, the IMO gave undertakings to the High Court:

  • Not to organise or recommend any collective action by its members in an attempt to influence the government in its decisions on fees for GPs
  • To advise its members to decide their stance on these issues individually and not on a collective basis

In response, the Authority confirmed that it had no objection to the IMO discussing the terms of HSE-funded GP contracts with the HSE, provided that the IMO advises its members that they should decide individually and not collectively whether to participate in the provision of such services.

Although the agreement clarifies the IMO’s role in discussions with the government, it also illustrates the need for professional bodies to exercise caution when advising or directing action by their members.