Consultants' fees for private patients likely to be cut: BMA ordered to stop publishing guidelines on charges

HOSPITAL consultants face cuts in the fees they are able to charge private patients after the Monopolies and Mergers Commission yesterday ruled that the British Medical Association was, in effect, running a monopoly in private medical care.

The association was ordered to stop publishing guidelines on the fees consultants can charge. The guidelines have enabled doctors 'to charge higher fees than would otherwise be possible', Neil Hamilton, the corporate affairs minister, said.

Private health insurers yesterday welcomed the move, Norwich Union Health Care predicting that in time it could cut health insurance premiums by 20 per cent.

But there was sniping among the insurers over Bupa, the biggest provider of private health cover, being allowed still to publish its schedule of maximum fees per operation. The MMC found Bupa's list has 'had a restraining effect on consultants' charges' and should continue.

However, Tim Baker, commercial director of Norwich Union Health Care, said 'we would challenge that. If you look at the top 20 procedures there is no difference between the BMA and Bupa'. Allowing Bupa to still provide its schedule would slow any drop in consultants' fees and hence premiums, he claimed.

The BMA agreed to withdraw the guidelines, but attacked the MMC's decision as 'perverse'. Doctors and patients had found the guidelines 'a helpful source of information on the likely costs of treatment in the private medical sector,' a spokesman said. Even the MMC's own research showed that 70 per cent of the market was influenced by the fee schedules of Bupa and other insurers, the association protested.

The BMA drew up its guidelines in 1989 after complaints from consultants that Bupa was holding down fees. The fees recommended include pounds 90 for joint manipulation under anaesthetic, pounds 310 for removing a wisdom tooth, pounds 775 for a hip replacement and pounds 5,825 for a liver transplant - all with additional fees for the anaesthetist.

The ruling is likely to see consultants effectively advertising their charges to family doctors in order to win business. The BMA said it would give 'early consideration to what arrangements should be made for consultants to make their charges known locally to general practitioners'.

Peter Garrard-Cole, director of benefits management for Bupa, said it too was examining ways of telling GPs what its benefit limits were and how much consultants locally charged their private patients. Norwich Union already encourages patients to check their insurance will cover the fees and warns patients off when the consultant's charge is too high.

The MMC found that consultants used both the Bupa and BMA figures as tariffs, so that those consultants following them were acting to 'prevent, restrict or distort competition'. However, Bupa's figures were there to tell its policy holders the maxima it would pay, while the BMA's were those of a trade union, helping consultants 'increase their incomes above what they would otherwise be'.

Banning the BMA's guidelines 'may help stimulate price competition' between consultants, the MMC said, adding that while it understood fears that the quality of private care might decline 'we believe price competition is not inimical to quality'.

The Consumer's Association welcomed the report and urged patients to haggle over consultants' fees.

Private Medical Services; Cmnd 2452; HMSO; pounds 23.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Tottenham legend Jimmy Greaves has defended fans use of the word 'Yid'
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West, performing in New York last week, has been the subject of controversy as rock's traditional headline slot at Glastonbury is lost once again
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living