Under the terms of an agreed settlement, the IMO has also given an undertaking to advise members that they should decide individually and not collectively whether to participate in publicly funded GP health services, such as the planned extension of free medical cover to under sixes.
However, the agreement does open the way for the union to represent members in any future talks with the Department of Health or the HSE regarding any proposed changes to publicly funded contracts with GPs, including the General Medical Services contract.
The deal comes almost a year after the Competition Authority initiated High Court proceedings against the IMO after the union refused to rescind a decision of its GP Committee to withdraw certain patient services in protest at proposed Government cuts to GP fees paid under the General Medical Services contract.
Under competition law, self-employed individuals cannot act collectively with the aim of affecting fees paid to them.
The IMO welcomed yesterday’s agreement as a major breakthrough in how relations have been conducted between the IMO and health officials over the past eight years.
A spokesperson for the IMO said the Competition Authority had “effectively prevented” the union from having any discussions with health officials since 2006 and that the agreement now reached would be “hugely liberating”.
The Irish Pharmacy Union also welcomed the agreement as “a very significant acknowledgement by the Competition Authority of the rights of representative bodies such as ourselves to fully represent our members in our dealings with the Department of Health and the HSE”.
However the National Association of General Practitioners said it was “appalled” at the terms of the agreement.
Its CEO, Chris Goodey, said it was “a black day for general practice” because the IMO had “signed an agreement effectively preventing it from acting as a proper trade union”.
This was because the agreement would only allow discussion, and not negotiating rights, he said.
Under the agreement, the health minister will retain the final decision-making power on fees.
Authority chair Isolde Goggin described the settlement as a good outcome for both patients and the State.
She said it would allow the process of reform to move ahead, while ensuring costs were not increased through anti-competitive behaviour.
IMO GP Committee chair Dr Ray Walley said the settlement acknowledged the IMO’s right to engage with the health minister and/or the HSE in respect of the scope, content, and resources allocated to publicly funded contracts for GPs.
The case was struck out in the High Court with no order for cost after the two sides reached the settlement.