Legal threat abates as IMO decision deadline extended

A possibility of legal action against the Irish Medical Organisation abated yesterday after the Competition Authority granted the union more time to reverse its decision to withdraw some GP services in response to proposed fee cuts.

Last Wednesday the IMO announced its GP members were withdrawing from pro bono work carried out on behalf of medical card patients, including the taking of routine blood tests, monitoring of patients on warfarin, and blood pressure monitoring.

The union, which represents about 2,000 GPs, also announced the withdrawal of members from primary care teams, community intervention teams, and clinical care chronic disease programmes such as the national diabetes programme.

The withdrawals were in response to proposed cuts in professional fees such as a reduction in the flu vaccination fee payable to €15. The cuts are possible under the financial emergency measures in the public interest legislation.

On Wednesday, the IMO published a press release on its website detailing its service withdrawal plans. The Competition Authority considered this a threat of collective action, meaning that GPs were in breach of competition law on the basis that they are self-employed.

The authority issued a warning to the IMO and instructed the union to immediately remove the press release and publish on its website an open undertaking to reverse the decision to withdraw services.

The authority said it intended to take “all necessary enforcement action if the IMO fails to rescind its decision concerning the withdrawal of services”.

The IMO had been given until 4pm yesterday to comply with the instructions. However, the authority issued a statement saying it had granted an extension to the deadline, to 12pm on Monday.

The IMO was unavailable for comment yesterday.


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