HC Deb 19 July 1977 vol 935 cc1355-8
2. Mr. Hodgson

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what further consulations he has had with pharmacists about their new contract.

22. Mr. Madel

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what further consultation he has had with pharmacists about their new contract.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. David Ennals)

I am meeting representatives of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee again on 25th July to continue our discussions about NHS remuneration.

Mr. Hodgson

Will the Secretary of State explain why he is proposing to make retrospective cuts of £11 million in the revenue receivable by chemists from the NHS? Is not this another example of the Government penalising efficiency and a matter which will ultimately redound against the interests of all consumers?

Mr. Ennals

There is no question of retrospective cuts. The stock-holding inquiry held in 1975, the validity of which was not challenged by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, showed that pharmacists' working capital had fallen from its previously assumed level. The PSNC agreed that the new figure, whether it be higher or lower, should operate from the date of the inquiry.

Mr. Ogden

My right hon. Friend knows of my special interest in the Pharmaceutical Society. I am grateful, as are most responsible chemists, for the special interest that he takes in problems facing pharmacists. Is he aware that the new President of the Pharmaceutical Society, Mrs. Estelle Leigh, is a Liverpool pharmacist? Will it be possible for my right hon. Friend to arrange to meet her and her colleagues during the Summer Recess to discuss not only negotiation, which is not the real duty of the society, but outstanding problems in this regard?

Mr. Ennals

I have already met Mrs. Leigh, for whom I have great respect. I assure my hon. Friend that if she and her colleagues from the Pharmaceutical Society want to have a discussion with me on any relevant issues I shall be delighted to see them.

Mr. Costain

Does the Secretary of State appreciate the problems in villages caused by chemists shops shutting down? Will he pay special regard to this problem, which is causing great anxiety to the elderly who have to travel many miles to the nearest chemist's shop?

Mr. Ennals

I am always concerned when this happens. There is a steady reduction year by year in the number of pharmacies, but most of them are not in villages. Some closures in urban areas are due to changes in population patterns as a result of slum clearance and so on.

The negotiating committee and I have a common concern to do more to help the small pharmacy. As the hon. Gentleman recognized, the small pharmacy is in the greatest danger. We are discussing how to give greater protection to the small pharmacy.

Dr. M. S. Miller

In view of the difficulties encountered by the pharmaceutical profession—there has been reference to the numbers of pharmacies closing year by year—and since this situation has nothing to do with the intrinsic nature of the National Health Service, will my right hon. Friend try to encourage local authorities to institute pharmacies within health centres?

Mr. Ennals

There are pharmacies within a number of health centres. It is far better that that should be the case than that there should in a sense be competition to get a pharmacy very close to a health centre. I am not prepared to give a direction on this matter by any means, but I should always approve of a recommendation that there should be a pharmacy within a health centre, particularly a big one providing services for a larger population.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Is the Secretary of State aware that there is widespread anxiety about the likely effect of the announcement that he has made about the pharmacists' contract, as evidenced by the fact that there is an all-party motion on the Order Paper signed by 212 hon. Members from both sides of the House? Does he agree that there is something inherently undesirable about a contract which appears to penalise efficiency in that the more efficiently the pharmacists use their capital, the more income they appear to lose? Is the examination taking account of the need to try to build in some kind of incentive payments for pharmacists that will help to keep pharmacies within the community instead of accelerating their closure?

Mr. Ennals

I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman's diagnosis. I am prepared to look at any new proposals, though none has yet come forward, on a totally new restructuring of the system of remuneration. The only announcement that I made today was that I was going to meet the negotiating committee on 25th July. I do not want to anticipate anything that happens then. I am considering carefully the representations that have been made to me by the pharmaceutical companies.