HC Deb 19 July 1965 vol 716 cc1099-101
32. Sir Knox Cunningham

asked the Minister of Health how many prescriptions were issued under the National Health Service in England and Wales for the six months before the abolition of prescription charges and for the six months after, respectively.

39. Mr. Bence

asked the Minister of Health what evidence he has received respecting increases in prescriptions following the abolition of prescription charges.

41. Mr. Rankin

asked the Minister of Health if he will state the number of medical prescriptions issued in February, March, April and May of this year, and the numbers issued in 1964 for the same months.

Mr. K. Robinson

As the Answer contains a number of figures, I will, with permission, circulate them in the Official Report in tables showing the numbers of prescriptions dispensed by chemists in England and Wales during the three months February to April, 1965—the only months for which figures are available since the abolition of charges—and the numbers dispensed during the corresponding months of 1964 and during the six months before the abolition of charges.

Sir Knox Cunningham

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that certain figures which he gave earlier this year showed a very marked increase in the number of prescriptions over the period, and is he satisfied that this increase is not due to abuse of the service by certain patients?

Mr. Robinson

If the hon. and learned Gentleman is talking of abuses of the service, I wonder why he says "by certain patients" since it is the doctors who sign prescriptions and not the patients, but I would tell him that the increase has varied very considerably from area to area and from month to month, and it is far too early to draw any final conclusions about it.

Mr. Bence

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the contacts which I have made both with doctors and other people in my constituency confirm the fact that doctors are not prescribing to any degree greater than they prescribed before, when there were charges, and that for old people in this country, certainly in my constituency, the abolition of charges is as good as an increase of 5s. or 6s. a week in their pensions?

Mr. Robinson

I am sure that this abolition is very much appreciated, particularly by old people, but in reply to my hon. Friend I would say that there is some indication that doctors are tending to prescribe smaller quantities, which reduces the average cost per prescription, but may increase the total number if more repeats of prescriptions are necessary.

Mr. Rankin

Is my right hon. Friend aware that an Answer to me last week dealing specifically with the Scottish figures and items of service rendered by general practitioners over these four months compared with the corresponding months last year showed a very significant rise? Does the same apply to England? If it is the case that there has been a considerable rise, will that fact be kept in the forefront in all the consultations which are now going on with the general practitioners?

Mr. Robinson

Certainly general practitioners lose no opportunity of telling me about their workload, but I would not necessarily accept the contention that the number of prescriptions and the increase in these necessarily means an equivalent increase in the number of items of service which a doctor gives.

Mr. Wood

Is it not very likely that the drug bill will show a very considerable increase by the end of this year; and, looking back, would it not have been very much wiser if the right hon. Gentleman had found improved methods to relieve the needy rather than subsidise people who are well able to pay?

Mr. Robinson

I have already told the right hon. Gentleman and the House that it is too early to draw any final conclusions about the effects of this action. I would certainly remind him that his Government apparently tried for 13 years to find better ways of relieving the needy and signally failed to do so.

Mr. Michael Foot

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the fact that Her Majesty's Opposition have always been opposed to a free National Health Service and that that is why they are squealing now?

The following is the information:

(a) Numbers of prescriptions dispensed by chemists in England and Wales during the months of February, March and April, 1965, compared with the same months of 1964:

Number of prescriptions
1964 1965
February 18,396,022 20,775,870
March 17,678,895 23,735,830
April 17,901,435 20,213,539
Totals 53,976,342 64,725,239

(b) Numbers of prescriptions dispensed by chemists in England and Wales during the months of:

August 14,611,711
September 16,263,446
October 18,062,199
November 17,656,154
December 17,634,277
January 18,579,479