Monday 17 December 2018

Watchdog forces nursing homes to make price pledge

'Sunday Independent' exposed boycott threat to boost State fees

Flashback: How we broke the story in June last year
Flashback: How we broke the story in June last year

Philip Ryan and Maeve Sheehan

The competition watchdog has secured a series of binding undertakings from the nursing home sector, following its examination of their threats to boycott the Fair Deal scheme uncovered in a Sunday Independent investigation.

The examination of "anti- competitive practices" found that nursing home operators did not carry through on threats to take collective action. However, the watchdog secured a series of "important" undertakings from the sector's trade body, to ensure such threats would not recur.

In a statement to the Sunday Independent, the competition watchdog said Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI) had promised to write to all members to remind operators of their obligations under competition law; promised not to organise meetings to discuss "unlawful collective actions" or to influence pricing decisions of its operators; and instructed NHI's board of directors and senior managers to take part in a competition law compliance programme.

Tadhg Daly, chief executive of Nursing Home Ireland, said: "As an organisation, we cooperated fully with the CCPT. Their conclusion is that there is no case to answer, which is what we said at the outset. We have entered into an agreement with the CCPC and we have communicated the details of this agreement to all our members."

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) launched the examination in September, after the Sunday Independent published records of a secret meeting at which private operators mooted a boycott of Fair Deal to boost the fees the State pays them for residents.

According to leaked minutes, the operators were warned repeatedly by solicitors that they risked "dawn raids" and an investigation by the competition authority, if they took collective action to increase their funding.

The NHI board later instructed its lawyers to "delete and destroy" the minutes.

The records were later referred to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) by Fianna Fail TD Thomas Byrne.

CCPC chairperson Isolde Goggin said: "The CCPC views any attempt to co-ordinate business conduct very seriously as, invariably, consumers - and in this instance potentially very vulnerable consumers - will suffer."

She said the CCPC launched an "examination" to determine whether NHI and its members had implemented any of the suggestions made at the meeting, which included collective action to potentially increase residents' contributions; potentially refuse new admissions from acute hospitals; and limit the number of new beds made available under the Fair Deal Scheme.

The CCPC is to launch a public consultation in the coming weeks.

Sunday Independent

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