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Prescription Charges

Volume 641: debated on Friday 5 May 1961

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asked the Minister of Health how many executive councils have protested to him about the increase in prescription charges.

In view of the fact that the Minister now admits that he has had representations from 48 executive councils protesting against the increase in prescription charges, is he not prepared to reconsider his decision to impose these charges, particularly in view of the fact that these people represent persons who have no particular political axe to grind, and have called attention to the hardship and disservice which his measures are doing to the welfare and health of patients?

No. This has been fully considered by the House, which has taken its decision. The executive councils know that I am ready to receive any evidence which they wish to put before me of ways in which the present arrangements are not working satisfactorily.

As the Minister has received representations from 48 different executive councils, is it unreasonable to ask him how many he has to have before he really reconsiders the whole scheme?


asked the Minister of Health if he has studied the protest made by the Glamorgan Executive Council of the National Health Service against the increased prescription charges; and, in view of the matters contained therein, if he will reconsider his policy in this respect.

The answer to the first part of the hon. Member's Question is "Yes", and to the second, "No".

How does the Minister expect to get evidence when it largely lies in the absence of old people visiting their doctors or taking up prescriptions? Does he realise that he is condemning himself as a Minister without compassion or mercy by his attitude on these matters?

I am sure that there could not be any appreciable or widespread hardship without its coming to the notice of the doctors or the executive councils.

Is it not the case, as the Minister admitted, in answering Question No. 12, that he has knowledge of 48 executive councils who have protested, and who are entitled to say this to the Minister? What other evidence does he need, what better opinion can he get, than that of expert people engaged in administering this Service on his behalf and that of the patients?

I can only say that these bodies are well aware of my repeated undertaking to consider evidence of hardship and difficulty which is arising, but they have not so far put before me evidence to that effect.

Does not the Minister consider the drop of more than 20 per cent. in the number of prescriptions between February and March when the increased charge came in as evidence? What other evidence does he require before he will change his policy?


asked the Minister of Health if he will now reconsider the amount charged for items of prescription in the light of the 20 per cent. decrease shown by the fall from 22,200,000 items in February, 1961 to 17,500,000 items in March, 1961.

Is not this adequate evidence of the failure of the policy with regard to the prescription charge? Has the Minister considered the additional evidence which I submitted to him of dispensing chemists in the Willesden area, where a chemist has been asked several times, when there are three items on the prescription list, which one is important because the mother cannot afford the other two until the end of the week? Has the Minister considered that letter? What further evidence does he require before he changes this appalling policy?

The second part of the supplementary question appears to relate to a different matter. As regards the fall between February and March, there are a great number of factors which no doubt played a part in this and which made the figure for March in itself of very little help and guidance. For example, the influenza epidemic came to an end before the end of February, and in this year March was an exceptionally fine month.

The Minister estimated a 2 per cent. fall in prescriptions. He has here a 20 per cent. drop. Does he not appreciate that this compares not only with the 2 per cent. that he estimated, but with the actual increase between February and March of last year? Is not this abundant evidence that people are not getting the prescriptions they need?

No, Sir. One cannot take individual months without regard to the circumstances, and certainly nothing less than the experience round the whole year can disclose any trends which are capable of being interpreted in a useful way.

In view of the differing evidence and opinions which have been expressed, and the fact that we have had some months' experience of the new charge, might it not be wise for the Minister to initiate some inquiry to try to find out what the situation is today?

I still think that it is too early for anything of that sort, but I am sure that the professions and the bodies which administer the Service will bring to my attention any evidence which comes their way.

Is the right hon. Gentleman implying that he has to wait 12 months or longer before he is prepared to take any action? Does he mean that he wants something drastic and outstanding to happen, such as people perhaps dying because they have not received medical attention, before he will take action?

I am sure that that would be brought to my attention, but the estimate to which the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) referred was an estimate for 12 months. All I said was that one could not judge how it was working out on a single month.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I will seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible opportunity.