HC Deb 09 June 1981 vol 6 cc250-1
3. Mr. Marks

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what was the actual cost of drugs dispensed in England during the two-year period 1978 to 1980.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. Patrick Jenkin)

£564 million in 1978–79 and £643 million in 1979–80. This does not include hospital dispensing.

Mr. Marks

Is not that a large increase when the number of prescriptions has been reduced? Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that there has been no unnecessary inflation of drug prices? Will he perhaps restrict the increases in future to 6 per cent., just as he is restricting the pay rises of the health workers?

Mr. Jenkin

The prescription pricing scheme aims to maintain strict control over the level of prices and profitability of drugs supplied to the NHS. Of course, we keep the scheme under regular review, but at present, apart from minor changes, we are operating the scheme exactly as it has been operated over recent years. If the hon. Member has any suggestions for improving it I shall be happy to listen to them.

Mrs. Knight

What steps has my right hon. Friend taken to ensure that expensive drugs are not wasted in NHS hospitals? Can he give the amount spent on drugs by hospitals?

Mr. Jenkin

I cannot answer the latter part of the question without notice. My hon. Friend is right in saying that it is of the utmost importance that pharmacists and doctors in hospitals should prescribe economically. Of course, the hospital drugs service is subject to the overall cash limit disciplines that apply to health authorities. There is, therefore, a built-in constraint that does not apply to the family practitioner services. I was also concerned —this was the pattern a short while ago —that because of the cash limit discipline out-patients were being asked to get drugs from their general practitioners rather than from the hospital pharmacy. Clearly that was just a method of evading the cash limit. We want to ensure that there is economical prescribing both in hospitals and in general practice.

Mr. Pavitt

Why have the Government rejected the advice of the British Medical Association on the revised British National Formulary to get rid of the hundreds of worthless drugs that are currently being prescribed? Will he consider establishing something like the MacGregor committee on the efficacy of drugs to operate in addition to the committee on the safety of medicines?

Mr. Jenkin

We have for the first time obtained the agreement of the BMA to make up an informal working group with my Department to examine effective prescribing. That represents a marked step by the doctors towards recognising the importance not only of economy in prescribing but of making sure that appropriate drugs are prescribed for and taken by patients. I therefore set considerable store by the move and I shall be reviewing the work of the working group at around the end of the year. I hope that it will lead to the more effective prescribing which all parties want.

Mr. Terry Davis

If the cost of drugs has increased by about 12 per cent., how does the Secretary of State justify the far bigger increase in prescription charges?

Mr. Jenkin

We always made it clear that we should like those who used the services to bear a higher proportion of the cost. I prefer to do that rather than to cut the service. My predecessor chose to slash back capital investment in the Health Service while refusing even to budge on prescription charges. That was a gravely mistaken priority. I believe that by maintaining the level of capital investment and asking patients to pay a bit more in charges we have the priorities right.