HC Deb 07 December 1959 vol 615 cc14-7
30. Mr. F. Noel-Baker

asked the Minister of Health what steps he will now take to prohibit the sale to the public without a medical prescription of of habit-forming proprietary drug containing phenmetrazine hydrochloride, of which he has been sent details by the Medical Panel of the Advertising Inquiry Committee; and whether his attention has been directed to the comments about this drug by the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate in a recent court case; and if he will make a statement.

40 Mr. Driberg

asked the Minister of Health (1) if he will make a statement on the official procedure for restricting the sale of potentially dangerous and habit-forming drugs; and if he will take steps to ensure that, when drugs of this kind come on the market, and their use is still experimental, they will be available on prescription only;

(2) if he has now considered the interim report of the Brain Committee: if he will publish it as a White Paper: and if he will make a statement;

(3) if the drugs considered by the Brain Committee include the tablets to which his attention was drawn in a letter dated 29th October, 1959, from the hon. Member for Barking; and if he is aware that these tablets, whose manufacturers themselves advise careful supervision of dose and amounts prescribed, since their side-effects can include allergic reactions, fever, fainting spells and bronchial spasms, can still be bought without a prescription at many chemists' shops.

Mr. Walker-Smith

One of the recommendations in the Interim Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Drug Addiction, which will be published shortly, is that, in general, any drug or pharmaceutical preparation which has an action on the central nervous system and is liable to produce physical or psychological deterioration should be confined to supply on prescription. The Committee further recommends that an independent expert body should advise which substances should be so controlled. As an interim and urgent measure, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department is asking the Poisons Board to advise him which substances should be limited to supply on prescription under the Pharmacy and Poisons Act, 1933.

Mr. Noel-Baker

While welcoming that Answer, I should like to ask the Minister whether he can give an assurance that immediate action will be taken to make it illegal to supply the drug, and others like it, without prescription. This matter has given rise to very grave anxiety in the minds of the public and of the medical profession. It was brought to the attention of the Minister many months ago by the body referred to in the Question and by the medical profession. There are strong feelings that this matter has hung fire for far too long. This is a drug the sale of which is illegal in most other countries and about which the firm distributing it in this country has gone on record as saying that it approves entirely of the advice that it should be put on Schedule 4 and should not be available except on prescription.

Mr. Walker-Smith

I am sure that we have followed the right course in referring this matter to the Brain Inter-Departmental Committee on Drug Addiction. As the hon. Member will appreciate, the Committee does not condemn this drug sub nomine. It is true that this drug and others come within the scope of the recommendation, but what we now have to do is what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary proposes to do—to refer this to the Poisons Board, which operates under the Pharmacy and Poisons Act, 1933, particularly, in this context, under Sections 17 and 23

Mr. Driberg

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman mean by that answer—which, I agree, is satisfactory so far as it goes, although it has been rather long delayed—that the drug referred to in Question No. 59 will be immediately unobtainable except on prescription? I refer to the drug mentioned in the alarming little leaflet which I sent him.

Mr. Walker-Smith

No; it means that in conformity with the recommendation of the Brain Committee the matter must now be considered by an independent expert body, which we think in this context should be the Poisons Board, which is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend.

Dr. Summerskill

While this is a little move forward, will the Minister tell the House what he proposes to do in respect of the drug houses who hold Press conferences to announce the efficacy of a drug which the medical profession knows full well has not had satisfactory clinical trials? These are drugs which can be obtained only on prescription.

Mr. Walker-Smith

The right hon. Lady's supplementary question raises a wider issue. We are here dealing with drugs which, according to the Brain Committee, are liable to produce physical or psychological deterioration. What I am asked to do is to see that they can be provided only on prescription. What doctors should do is a matter for their own clinical conscience and judgment; it is not for me to direct them.

Sir H. Linstead

Does not the variety of the Questions put to my right hon. and learned Friend indicate how important it is to deal with this subject comprehensively and not isolated, drug by isolated drug?

Mr. Walker-Smith

I quite agree with my hon. Friend. As I have already indicated, this is an interim and urgent measure. The Ministers concerned are also engaged in a comprehensive review of the whole of the legislation relating to the control of medical substances and are considering what changes should be made.

Mr. Driberg

In view of the Minister's answer to my previous supplementary question, can he say roughly how long it will be before the drug referred to in Question No. 59 is withdrawn from sale without a prescription? Is he aware that, in addition to the effects described in the Question, the manufacturers themselves say that withdrawal reactions have in some cases taken the form of epileptiform seizures—though fortunately, so far, suicide attempts have been unsuccessful?

Mr. Walker-Smith

I cannot give a precise answer to the hon. Member's supplementary question, because it depends upon the Poisons Board, which, as I have said, is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. However, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that even now most chemists will only supply these drugs on prescription as a matter of guidance, and not of necessity. I am sure that these exchanges in the House today will reinforce that good tendency among chemists.