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Prescription Charges

Volume 655: debated on Monday 5 March 1962

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asked the Minister of Health whether he will now review the prescription charges.

I have nothing to add to my reply to the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) and for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) on 11th December.

Is the Minister aware that his predecessor told me two years ago that the Government would review the prescription charges at the end of the two-year period of voluntary limitation recommended by Sir Henry Hinchliffe's Committee? Has that review taken place, and can we have a statement of the result?

The review of the trend of prescriptions and prescribing costs would not be the basis for a change of the present policy. The whole question of prescription charges is continuously being examined. I must tell the House that there is still no reason to think that the yield of these charges cannot be far better spent elsewhere in the National Health Service than by reducing them.

Has not the right hon. Gentleman yet realised that the most obnoxious feature of the prescription charges is that they put a special penal tax on special diseases? Could not he go at least a step towards meeting the Opposition by allowing people such as diabetics to have all their medicaments on one prescription?

This has frequently been considered, but the difficulty of distinguishing one category of disease from another is almost insurmountable. The best way to deal with the matter is by the assistance which can be given in prescribing for a substantial period where the medicines are regularly required. If the hon. Gentleman has a particular case in mind, I will gladly look at it and see whether I can help.

With regard to the increase put on prescription charges last February, did not the Minister tell the House that he would look at the matter after he had had twelve months' experience? Has not that period of twelve months now expired and has there not been a considerably larger fall in the number of prescriptions than he expected, and is it not a fact that this fall is not nearly balanced by the increase in the average cost of prescriptions, indicating that quantities prescribed have not increased commensurately with the drop in number?

The fall in numbers is due not only to the increase in prescribing for a longer period but also to the elimination of prescriptions which can be obtained for under 2s. There can be no exactitude in this matter, but the evidence is that the increase in quantities prescribed does substantially counterbalance the fall in the numbers.