HC Deb 24 June 1963 vol 679 cc922-4
12. Mr. John Hall

asked the Minister of Health what study is being made by his Department of the long-term social and physiological effects of oral contraceptives; and if he is satisfied that it is safe for these contraceptives to be freely available before the study has been completed.

20. Mrs. Butler

asked the Minister of Health what study is now being made in regard to the long-term effects on health of oral contraceptives.

21. Mr. Sorensen

asked the Minister of Health what study has been made of the side-effects of contraceptive pills now made generally available; if written instructions and warning of possible side-effects are required to be distributed with each sale of those products; and under what specific circumstances they can be had without charge by poor persons.

Mr. Powell

I understand the Medical Research Council has in hand studies on the effects of these drugs. They can only be bought on prescription. I am not aware of arrangements for supply without charge.

Mr. Hall

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that an oral contraceptive for use by males is now being successfully developed, that too little appears to be known of the long-term effects on male fertility and the female reproductive system, that, so far as one can judge, very little thought has been given to the social consequences which might follow from the use of these contraceptives, and, above all, that little thought has been given to the effect on the balance of the world population if these contraceptives prove to be much more acceptable in Western countries than in the countries of the greatest population growths, in Africa and Asia? Would he not agree that it would be a little unwise to allow these contraceptives to be freely marketed until these consequences have been fully studied?

Mr. Powell

Some of the questions asked by my hon. Friend go beyond my Departmental responsibility, but certainly the new Committee on Safety of Drugs will be in a position to collect all the evidence on the observed effects of these drugs, and I am sure that that will be taken into account by the medical profession which alone can prescribe them.

Mrs. Butler

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that there is considerable concern that these pills, which there is reason to believe may be cancer-producing in later life, appear to be fairly freely available at family planning clinics, which may give an impression of safety which is completely unjustified? Can he assure the House that whenever the pills are issued the recipients are made aware of the possible dangers? Does he not agree that there should be a greater restriction on the issue until we know more about them?

Mr. Powell

The limitation on the issue is the same as that on the issue of any other drug available only on prescription, that is to say, it is made available only on the knowledge and responsibility and judgment of a doctor.

Mr. Sorensen

While I personally welcome the availability of these contraceptive pills, may I also emphasise what has been said before regarding the possible danger and the side-effects, in particular? Would the right hon. Gentleman give me a reply to the suggestion implicit in my Question—that with the distribution of these contraceptive pills some leaflet should be given to the recipient indicating the possible side-effects? Would he also reply to the Question about the charge for poor persons? May I further ask him whether prescriptions can be asked for, presumably from doctors, and whether doctors are then entitled to refuse to give them on moral or religious grounds?

Mr. Powell

I have not been able to trace the specific circumstances, to which the hon. Gentleman refers in the last part of his Question, in which there are arrangements for supply without charge. When a drug is supplied only on prescription, it is for the doctor to give the patient what indications in his discretion he thinks are necessary for the proper use of that drug.

Mrs. Butler

Does not the Minister have a responsibility for making sure that instructions are issued, through doctors, to recipients that there may be a danger in later life?

Mr. Powell

There are many drugs which are constantly prescribed by doctors which have or may have serious side-effects, and it is the responsibility of the doctor in the individual case and in his judgment to give the necessary indications for their use. But, in general, as regards side-effects which are observed, I would refer to the function which the Committee on Safety of Drugs will have, of collecting precisely that type of material.

Mr. K. Robinson

Would the Minister confirm that so far there is no scientific evidence that these oral contraceptives are in any way carcinogenic?

Mr. Powell

Not without notice.

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