HC Deb 09 June 1981 vol 6 c252
4. Mr. Freeson

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the annual cost of the administration of the pharmaceutical services scheme to the National Health Service.

Dr. Vaughan

Assuming that the hon. Member means payments to pharmacists other than the cost of ingredients, that was £205 million out of a total of £801 million in 1980. If he is asking about the cost of our family practitioner committees, that is not available, I am afraid, but I can tell him that the cost of the prescription pricing authority was £8.1 million in 1979–80.

Mr. Freeson

I take the qualification that the Minister made. How do the figures that he has quoted relate to the amount that has been recovered by prescription charge increases of 400 per cent. during the last two years? Has not this tax on ill health produced a minimal saving to the NHS?

Dr. Vaughan

No, I cannot accept that. Prescription charges yield about £80 million, which is a major contribution to the costs of the NHS. We are, however, carefully watching the administrative costs in all sections of the NHS with a view to improving the service generally.

Mr. Hannam

Does my hon. Friend agree that the local pharmacy plays a vital role in our community health care services? What is the latest position on the closure of pharmacies? Are the numbers now stabilising?

Dr. Vaughan

Pharmacies are a most important part of our Health Service. There were 8,720 pharmacists in 1980. The trend of closures has been as follows. In 1975 the number was, overall, 209 down. In 1979 it was 38 down, and in 1980 the change was nil. We are therefore maintaining the numbers of pharmacists.

Mr. Skinner

We do not expect this Tory Government to enact any part of Labour Party policy, including that of nationalising the pharmaceutical industry. That will be dealt with in due process of time when we have a Socialist Administration, after we have got rid of this Government. Will the hon. Gentleman consider the possibility of applying in this area what the Tories have appeared to set as a precedent in others —namely, a windfall profits tax? It was used to a degree in the case of North Sea oil. It was also applied to the banks to the tune of £400 million. Will he extend the principle and impose a windfall profits tax on the pharmaceutical industry?

Dr. Vaughan

The answer is "No". That is an unnecessary question. Pharmacists' profits are carefully monitored.

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