asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he expects to reply to the letter of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill to the Minister of Health of 19 March, about the number of people entitled to exemption from prescription charges and remission of dental and optical charges on grounds of low income; and if he will publish his reply in the Official Report.
I have written to the hon. Member today. The text is as follows.Thank you for your letter of 19 March about Kenneth Clarke's Answer of 14 March to your Question about the numbers eligible for remission of NHS charges. I am sorry you have had to wait so long for a reply but we have been making enquiries to find out if we could provide any meaningful additional information. I am afraid, however, that we have had to conclude that we can be of little further help.Let me explain. It would be wrong to think that the Family Expenditure Survey (FES) data can be used to estimate the number of people eligible for low income exemption or full remission of NHS charges. At best, the FES can be used to derive an imprecise estimate of the numbers with sufficiently low incomes to qualify. However eligibility depends also on the person having a need for the prescription, glasses etc. and any FES estimate will include an unknown proportion who have no such need. For that same reason, any FES estimate cannot be combined with data about the number of exemptions and remissions actually claimed to derive a take-up figure.Moreover, information about dental and optical charges would be incomplete without an estimate of the significant number who qualify for partial remission. This cannot be done from FES as entitlement depends not just on the patient's income and need for the service but also on the level of charge applicable for the particular type of treatment or appliance required by the patient.In view of the inadequacies of FES estimates, we thought it would be unhelpful to give an answer to your Question on that basis but instead we provided you with the best factual information available to us.However, since you referred specifically in your letter to FES estimate of exemption from prescription charges provided earlier by Tony Newton, we have calculated that in 1981 there were 3·9 million people in Great Britain whose low incomes would have exempted them from prescription charges. The figure for 1983 is not yet available. Information about the number of people who held current low income exemption certificates in 1981 and 1983 is also not available. The best information we have on that subject is that some 55,000 and 86,000 low income exemption certificates were issued in the first and last quarters respectively of 1983.It would take considerably longer to estimate from FES the full remission figures for dental and optical charges. In view of the qualifications which would relate to those figures and the additional factor of partial remissions I do not feel it would be a productive use of staff time to calculate them.
I am sorry I cannot be more helpful.