HC Deb 15 March 1983 vol 39 cc123-4
14. Mr. Roy Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he will ensure that optical charges will not rise in real terms in 1983–84.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

Charges for all family practitioner services, including charges for ophthalmic services, will increase only in line with costs in 1983–84.

Mr. Hughes

Will the Minister bear in mind that the maximum charge is now £15.50 compared with £6.15 when the Government took office, an increase of no less than 152 per cent? Will he also bear in mind that there has been a 39.2 per cent. increase in income from charges above the retail prices index? Are not these increased charges deplorable for such a basic and essential service?

Mr. Clarke

The maximum charge to which the hon. Gentleman refers is increasing by 50p next year, which is 3 per cent., and below the present level of inflation. We believe that it is right that people should make a modest contribution to these services to continue the development of the National Health Service. People on low incomes and those in full-time education aged 19 and below are exempt from all these charges.

Mrs. Knight

Does my hon. and learned Friend recall that successive Health Ministers, including hon. Members who are now in opposition, have repeatedly told opticians that they must meet their salaries and overheads out of the profit from the sale of private frames? If any arrangement is to be made to alter the cost of frames this state of affairs must be borne in mind.

Mr. Clarke

We have recently increased substantially the fees paid to opticians for sight testing and other National Health Service work. I am glad that we have reached agreement with the profession on a proper range of fees for its Health Service work. Charging for private frames is a matter for the optician and the patient. I believe that there is some concern about this. I am glad to say that the cost of private frames appears to be dropping substantially in the present year, probably thanks to the arrangements that we have reached on the forward level of remuneration for National Health Service work.

Mrs. Dunwoody

This third increase will bring the increase since the Government came to office to 152 per cent. Is the Minister really saying that this can be justified in terms of the need for proper optical care?

Mr. Clarke

The hon. Lady knows that her figure is arrived at only by making use of selective years. The previous Government neither abolished the charges nor raised them in their last years in office. We have therefore caught up a little on the gap that opened up in the late 1970s. We have now reached a reasonable level of charges, with exemptions for those who have difficulty paying. The hon. Lady cannot advocate giving up the revenue produced and, at the same time, suggest that she wants to develop and improve the treatment of patients under the National Health Service.