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Volume 165: debated on Friday 19 January 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health what sanctions are available currently against general practitioners who, after professional assessment, are considered to be over-prescribing; what changes will be introduced under the new general practitioners contract; and if he will make a statement.

At present, action can be taken under regulation 16 of the NHS (Service Committees and Tribunal) Regulations 1974 against general practitioners who are considered to be prescribing excessively. Regulation 16 provides for the Secretary of State to refer cases to local medical committees (LMCs) for investigation. LMCs may recommend a withholding of remuneration against GPs who prescribe excessively. There have been no referrals under regulation 16 since 1974. The Department is currently discussing with representatives of the medical profession, in the light of the Government's plans to introduce indicative prescribing budgets, how the existing sanctions process should be modified to provide a more effective procedure. GPs who exceed their indicative prescribing budget will not face sanctions on that fact alone. Only where there is clear evidence of excessive prescribing will the FPC refer the matter for consideration by a professional committee. We expect that the application of sanctions will be a process of last resort.