Dentists’ High Court bid finally fails

Legal bid to stop HSE changes to medical card scheme is thrown out

Two dentists who took the Health Service Executive (HSE) to the High Court have failed in their bid to stop the executive from implementing changes to the medical card scheme.

Martin Reid from Moville, Donegal, and James Turner from Baltinglass, Wicklow, obtained a High Court injunction in June 2010 preventing the HSE from implementing the scheme pending the full hearing. They argued that the circular issued on 27 April 2010 was a breach of contract.

However, at the High Court, Mr Justice Roderick Murphy found there was no such breach and ruled that the injunction should be discharged. He stated that Reid and Turner, who are both members of the Irish Dental Association (IDA), had participated in the dental treatment services scheme – which was introduced in 1994 for medical card holders. In 1999, the IDA negotiated revised procedures that provided the then health boards (now the HSE) with the right to take whatever measures needed to live within their budgets and statutory obligations.

The 2010 budget limited expenditure under the scheme to Û63 million and, in April of that year, the HSE issued the circular to all dentists.

Mr Justice Murphy ruled that, as the dentists had taken part in the scheme since its introduction in 1994, they were bound by its terms.

He also pointed out that the 1999 agreement resulted in a benefit to members of the IDA in that there followed an acknowledgement by the health boards towards the restoration of parity of professional fees paid for the treatment of PRSI workers by the Department of Social, Family and Community Affairs. There was also an acknowledgement by the association, the judge said, of the health boards' statutory obligations to stay within budget.

In light of all this, and having regard to the scheme's statutory background, Mr Justice Murphy ruled that the HSE circular was therefore contractually binding on the dentists.