The President of the Polish Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) on Tuesday (17th Nov) launched an investigation into the supply of oxygen to hospitals.

There has been an increase in the demand for medical oxygen amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, with the gas considered essential to treatments for critically ill patients, such has invasive ventilation and low and high-flow oxygen therapies.

Tomasz Chróstny, President of UOKiK, has been notified of problems with oxygen supply to hospitals in some voivodeships.

“Irregularities may occur at different levels of trade in this substance and manifest both in the form of misunderstandings and abuse of a dominant position,” UOKiK said in a statement.

“The trading market for medical gases is highly concentrated the four largest players, i.e. Linde, Air Products, Messer and Air Liquide, have a market share exceeding 90%.”

“Furthermore, at some hospitals under the concluded contracts the oxygen supplier may hinder access to hospital infrastructure for other entities, which may raise serious difficulties for hospitals with the current pandemic-related situation.”

Chróstny said UOKiK will examine the entire market of supply of medical gases – especially oxygen – to hospitals and other institutions as part of the investigation.

He continued, “It is currently an extremely important element of medical treatment which saves the health and life of many persons.”

“We must avoid a situation where any entity on this market could abuse its dominant position or use prohibited practices in order to restrict the access of its oxygen-supplying competitors to hospitals.”

“In this difficult climate, these entities should take any and all measures necessary to ensure uninterrupted supplies of oxygen to hospitals, for example for providing other entities with broader access to the market, logistics and hospital infrastructure, which they frequently have at their disposal based on the concluded contracts.”

“In the case of entities which take advantage of the difficult situation to violate the antitrust law, we will take action in accordance with any and all mechanisms legally available to us.”

UOKiK monitors the market and signals as to violation of the competition law, inter alia through abuse of a dominant position or conclusion of a prohibited agreement.

The maximum fine that can be imposed by the President of UOKiK in the case of competition-restricting practices is 10% of the undertaking’s annual turnover for each practice.