HC Deb 20 April 1964 vol 693 cc876-9
60. Lord Balniel

asked the Minister of Health what is the present state of negotiations about the remuneration of chemists in England and Wales for their National Health Service dispensing.

Mr. Barber

It was agreed in 1962 that an inquiry should be carried out by a firm of consultants into the expenses of National Health Service dispensing by chemists, other than the cost of drugs and containers, which is reimbursed separately and in full. Their final report was received in January. Since then I have met the chemists' representatives, and discussed the matter with them.

Remuneration for National Health Service dispensing is intended to cover two elements—firstly, chemists' actual outgoings and, secondly, their net earnings. The House will be pleased to know that as regards the outgoings, I have informed the chemists' representatives that, subject to certain minor aspects which are still under discussion, I accept the figures of actual outgoings revealed by the report. I estimate that this will involve an addition to total remuneration of at least £3 million a year, or an increase in the average payment to chemists of at least £230 a year

The second element which is taken into account in determining chemists' remunertaion is their net earnings. The object here is to ensure that they receive a fair reward for the service they provide. An increase in this element is, in my view, also justifiable. The actual amount is for negotiation.

Lord Balniel

The average increase in payment to cover expenses of at least £230 a year will be very warmly welcomed by the chemists, many of whom are rather worried by existing trading conditions. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman two questions? First, will he push forward the outstanding negotiations so as to reach a settlement as soon as possible? Secondly, would he agree that the right principle is that chemists should be properly paid for dispensing so that they do not have to subsidise their dispensing by profits on the sale of non-pharmaceutical products?

Mr. Barber

On the first point, I certainly want to proceed with all possible speed. Indeed, I suggested to the chemists that they should present to me a specific claim for increased remuneration for the very purpose of trying to get things going more quickly. I received that claim last month.

On the second point, our object has always been, and remains, to fix remuneration, including profit, at such a level as to give a fair return to the chemists for the service which they provide, regardless of the profit earned on the retail side.

Mr. K. Robinson

Is the Minister aware that we on this side of the House are very glad that some progress has been made towards resolving a matter which has been causing considerable concern among chemists? Will he bear in mind in the course of his negotiations that all the evidence points to the fact that under the existing arrangements the greatest hardship is suffered by the smaller chemists, particularly the one-man businesses, and that probably some further weighting in their favour is necessary if justice is to be done?

Mr. Barber

I am sure that the hon. Member would not expect me to say more than that I will bear that in mind. I have no doubt that it will be one of the points which we shall be considering with the chemists' representatives.

Sir H. Linstead

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. May I put one question to him? He has spoken about the payment of the expenses element in remuneration. Those expenses having been paid already by the people concerned, can my right hon. Friend indicate whether any element of retrospection is possible in regard to that section of the remuneration?

Mr. Barber

I think that we have to see how the negotiations go, but certainly I would not rule out a measure of retrospect in so far as chemists' outgoings are concerned.

Mr. Grimond

Can the Minister say whether these figures take into account the loss which the chemists allege they will suffer if the abolition of resale price maintenance goes through?

Mr. Barber

As I have explained, our object is to fix the remuneration so as to give chemists a fair return for the service which they provide regardless of the profit earned on the retail side. If chemists' non-National Health Service business were reduced for any reason, there would probably be some increase in the proportion of expenses allocated to National Health Service business. In that event, that would ultimately have a small effect on National Health Service remuneration. But I would not wish the House to be misled about this. It would not, in fact, be very great.

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