GPs are warned not to share information on free under-6 care
A consumer watchdog has warned doctors not to break international competition law over free GP care for children aged under six.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission has expressed its "grave concern" to the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) regarding the conduct of some of its members.
The commission has advised "that any individual GP in Ireland who engages in the exchange of information with competitor GPs regarding their future intentions in relation to the under-sixes contract risks acting outside of Irish and European competition law".
Commission chair Isolde Goggin said that under competition law, GPs are classified as businesses and when businesses get together to agree the terms and conditions under which they are prepared to supply a service, consumers invariably suffer.
"The commission will continue to use all the powers at its disposal to protect consumers from anti-competitive practices such as the ones being pursued by the NAGP, but also within any sector and at any level in the economy," she said.
Meanwhile a doctor has launched a High Court action against the HSE over its plans to provide free GP services to children under six. Dr Yvonne Williams wants the introduction of the new scheme postponed until her representative body, the NAGP, has an opportunity to negotiate on behalf of its members.
It is claimed that the proposed scheme, which is due to come into effect in July to provide free health care to all children under six, will result in changes to Dr Williams' General Medical Services (GMS) contract with the HSE.
The GMS contract is the agreement between GPs and the HSE for the delivery of primary care services to medical card holders. Dr Williams claims the changes to her GMS contract are being imposed on her unilaterally.
She also says the exclusion of the NAGP from the negotiation of the new contract has "gravely prejudiced" her. Her action is being supported by the NAGP, which claims the HSE has acted in breach of contract.
Dr Williams, represented by solicitors Eanna Mulloy and Phelim O'Neill, said the new scheme will lead to a "dramatic increase" in the frequency with which the under-sixes will present at her practice.
She said it would "not be possible to accommodate the increased demand", and to try to do so would "compromise the care of all her patients".
Dr Williams said she was being placed in "an impossible position" of either signing a new contract she believes will compromise her patients' care or face having to close her practice.
As a result, she has launched her action seeking injunctions, including one restraining the HSE from removing any patients under the age of six from her GMS list until the proceedings are determined.
She also seeks orders restraining the defendant from reducing payments due to her under her GMS contract.
Mr Justice Anthony Hunt yesterday granted Dr Williams, who is based in Shannon, Co Clare, permission to serve short notice of the proceedings against the HSE.
NAGP chairman Andrew Jordan said the organisation, which has 1,281 members, has been "wilfully excluded" from talks concerning the under-sixes scheme.
He said the HSE and the Minister for Health had engaged with the Irish Medical Organisation about the new scheme.
It was announced last month that the HSE, IMO and the minister had reached an agreement in relation to the under-sixes scheme.
It is the NAGP's position any unilateral alteration of its members' GMS contracts would be regarded as a "fundamental breach of contract".