HC Deb 01 February 1965 vol 705 cc718-9
45. Mr. Fisher

asked the Minister of Health whether in view of representations made by the British Medical Association and the General Practitioners' Association, he will reconsider his proposal to abolish the prescription charges.

Mr. K. Robinson

No, Sir. Prescription charges have been abolished with effect from today.

Mr. Fisher

Will not this decision impose a severe added burden upon already very overworked general practitioners? Is it really a good sense of priority, and should it take precedence for relief over more doctors, more nurses and more hospital beds? Do these not have a far greater need? Has the right hon. Gentleman not got his sense of priorities, financial and need, entirely wrong?

Mr. Robinson

No, Sir. I do not consider that this will cause a considerably added burden on doctors. I have said that their fears, in my view, are very much exaggerated. There will be some increase in regard to people who have been deterred by the charges from seeking treatment. They will now be able to get it, and I am sure that the added burden will be willingly accepted by the medical profession. Indeed, until last July the British Medical Association pressed strongly and consistently for the abolition of prescription charges. The B.M.A.'s representatives told the Hinchingbrooke Committee that they regarded the charges as a tax on illness and old age, and I think that they were right.

Lord Balniel

While the right hon. Gentleman is increasing expenditure in this part of the National Health Service, will he take this opportunity to deny the widespread Press reports that he is cutting down on the hospital building programme or is rephasing it so as to slow down the various hospital projects?

Mr. Speaker

The Minister has no responsibility for denying Press reports unless he is shown to be responsible for them.

Dr. Summerskill

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that this morning I spent over two hours writing prescriptions in a surgery, that there was certainly no increase at all in their number and that there were no frivolous claims? Does not this Question anticipate a situation which will not arise?

Mr. Robinson indicated assent.

Mr. Wood

None the less, will the right hon. Gentleman be rather more specific about the estimate he has made of the increase in prescriptions which is likely to flow from the abolition of the charges?

Mr. Robinson

No, Sir. Clearly I cannot be specific on such a matter. I can only say that I do not believe that there will be any substantial increase, and what my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) said rather suggests that I may be right.

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