HC Deb 27 March 1984 vol 57 cc129-30
7. Mr. Winnick

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what representations he has received following his recent statement on increased health and prescription charges.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

I have received 29 letters from hon. Members, 46 letters from members of the public and five letters from professional bodies and other organisations about the charges announced on 8 March.

Mr. Winnick

What possible justification can there have been for the increase of 700 per cent. in prescription charges since the Tories came into office and in maximum dental charges from £30 to £110? When will the Secretary of State — a member of the Cabinet — have enough gumption and courage to stand up to the constant demands of the Treasury over these matters?

Mr. Clarke

Because we believe that those who can afford to pay, and only those who can afford to pay, are prepared to make a reasonable contribution towards the cost of this treatment. If one does not raise a reasonable contribution, one gives up revenue which could be well spent within the NHS. The figures quoted by the hon. Gentleman reflect the fact that, for electoral reasons, the then Labour Government depressed the charges in the run-up to the general election. In fact, the proportion of total NHS spending now found out of charges is considerably less than was usual in the 1960s under successive Governments.

Mr. Dickens

Is it not a fact that those in need do not have to pay for prescriptions, and that 70 per cent. of all prescriptions are dispensed at no cost?

Mr. Clarke

Absolutely. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that elementary point. The Government have no intention of changing the present exemptions from prescription charges. The figure quoted by my hon. Friend shows how completely we protect those who might otherwise have difficulty in paying.

Mr. Pavitt

Is the Minister not ashamed of the fact that, by raising the cost of pre-payment season tickets to £24 a year, he is taking £10 million from those who are permanently sick and whose illnesses are most acute? If he needs his pound of flesh, will he at least accept that it is an outrage that females who have had a breast amputated and, therefore, will be on chemotherapy for 20 years, will probably be paying £24 a year?

Mr. Clarke

Season ticket charges are paid only by those patients who are able to pay. We are protecting exactly the same exemptions as those protected by the Labour Government. We have not changed the policy on exemptions. We are raising not a pound of flesh, but a sensible contribution towards the growing amount of expenditure that the Government are sanctioning on the NHS.

Mr. Couchman

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, even where prescription charges are payable, they barely cover a quarter of the true costs of the drugs prescribed?

Mr. Clarke

Yes, indeed I can.

Mr. Meacher

Is the Minister aware that on 28 April 1979, the Prime Minister said that Labour claims that the Tory Government would increase prescription charges were a lie? Will he therefore explain how prescription charges have now been increased by 800 per cent. —[HON. MEMBERS: "700."]—since this Government came to power? Is not this latest increase—three times greater than the rate of inflation— a fundamental tax on the sick? Is it not indicative of the Government's values that in one week the Chancellor gives away £360 million to the very rich through the abolition of the investment income surcharge and in the next week the Secretary of State increases prescription charges to the sick by £37 million?

Mr. Clarke

The hon. Gentleman has a marvellous way with figures, but I have never known them go up quite so quickly as that, even in his presentation of the case. In 1979, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister pledged that we would not introduce any new form of charge. The Labour party was then claiming that we would introduce charges for going to the doctor as well as hotel charges for hospitals. My right hon. Friend denied that, gave a promise, and we have stuck to it. We are applying a sensible policy which will raise valuable revenue for an improved NHS.