Dentists’ High Court bid rejected

Judge throws out injunction aimed at stopping HSE’s medical card cuts

The High Court has rejected an injunction bid by 25 dentists to stop the Health Service Executive’s (HSE) cutbacks in free medical card treatments.

The dentists had argued for the interlocutory injunction ahead of a High Court case brought about by 56 dentists, including the 25 who lodged the injunction bid, who are suing the HSE for breach of contract.

This comes just a matter of weeks after dentists Martin Reid and James Turner won a Supreme Court ruling (see pdf version link below) to restore an earlier High Court injunction restraining the HSE from unilaterally varying its contract until the courts have ruled on the validity of the HSE’s cutbacks. The case is due in court in December.

However, the latest injunction bid was turned down by Ms Justice Mary Irvine who ruled that, despite the dentists arguing that they were likely to be put out of business by the cutbacks, there was no principle of law that established insolvency or that going out of business could not be adequately remedied by an award of damages.

Ms Justice Irvine also said that she was not satisfied that the dentists had proved that their practices were likely to terminate for any significant period between now and the outcome of the trial.

She called into question the evidence presented by the plaintiffs saying it indicated a lack of clarity in relation to the dentists’ economic position and she said there was significant doubt in her mind as to their actual financial circumstances. She also mentioned her surprise that they had not moved earlier, given their claims of imminent closure, as the cutbacks had been in operation since 27 April.

At the previous hearing, Mark Connaughton, SC, counsel for the HSE, had said that financial accounts prepared on behalf of the 56 applicants showed that almost 30 of them had net profits of more than €100,000 from the scheme last year. He had also argued that the HSE had been advised that the figure required to maintain the Dental Treatment Services Scheme at the same level was €88 million, whereas only €63m was available in the budget.

However, in an affidavit on behalf of the 56 dentists, Timothy Lynch from Killorgan, had told the court that some faced significant staff pay-offs, closure, retirement or emigration as a result.

Supreme Court ruling

The Supreme Court has restored a High Court injunction restraining the Health Service Executive (HSE) from unilaterally varying its contract with two dentists under the medical card scheme.

Dr Martin Reid and Dr James Turner won the High Court injunction in June and last month the Supreme Court restored the ruling until the case is heard in full in December.

The court heard that the restrictions of services under the new cuts would be such as to almost wipe out some dental practices and drastically reduce the viability of others.

The Irish Dental Association has welcomed the ruling and restated their belief that the cuts are “savage” and would have a dramatic effect on dental health. Fintan Hourihan, chief executive of the IDA, said: “Three months ago we described the HSE’s move as unsafe, unworkable and unethical. We said it would hit the most vulnerable in our society as well as setting back the dental health of the nation by decades.

“We also said that the cuts did not make any financial sense as every case of delayed treatment would require hugely expensive treatment in future years. The IDA welcomes this decision and hopefully it will concentrate minds in the HSE.”

Published: 16 September, 2010 at 16:01