HC Deb 27 November 1984 vol 68 cc761-2
1. Mr. Hunter

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what consultation he has had with the pharmaceutical industry following his statement on 8 November about drug pricing.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. Norman Fowler)

As I announced on 8 November, my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health will have discussions with the pharmaceutical industry about the pharmaceutical price regulation scheme. Arrangements have been made for him to meet representatives of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry shortly.

Mr. Hunter

Can my right hon. Friend give any assurance that measures resulting from that statement will not effectively amount to denying NHS patients certain important drugs? I have in mind in particular the arthritis drug, Distalgesic.

Mr. Fowler

Branded drugs, which have been specifically developed for the relief of pain and inflammation in rheumatism and arthritis, will still be available. At present, Distalgesic is not in that category. We are committed to the limited list scheme, but the whole point of having the consultation period is to listen to the arguments on particular drugs. That is why we are having consultations.

Mr. Ashley

Is the Secretary of State aware that his first attempt to introduce a rational prescribing policy is to be very warmly welcomed, that he should strongly resist the selfish and distorted propaganda of the pharmaceutical industry, which is now screaming blue murder, and that the only advice he should accept about implementing this very good proposal is independent advice?

Mr. Fowler

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I think he will agree with me that there is a balance to be held in these proposals. It in no one's interest to take measures which will damage the research-based pharmaceutical industry in this country. I believe that in the Government's proposals we are not doing that, and we are making useful savings in the Health Service budget. On those grounds I think that the proposals should, as the right hon. Gentleman says, be supported.

Dr. Mawhinney

I, too, commend my right hon. Friend on the decision that he has taken and on the consultations into which he has entered. Will he take every opportunity, with the rest of us, to make it clear to patients that they will not be medically disadvantaged by the sensible decision that he has taken and announced?

Mr. Fowler

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That point needs to be emphasised. There will, of course, be generic alternatives to the branded drugs which will not be prescribed free on the National Health Service, so there is no question of patients being disadvantaged by the steps that we have taken. We are having consultations so that we can ensure that that does not happen.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Does the Secretary of State accept that many of us on the Liberal Benches accept the benefits of genuine generic substitution, but will he confirm that it is his intention that all drugs presently available will continue to be available either across the counter, because prescription is not required, or by reason of their generic equivalence?

Mr. Fowler

The drugs which are available across the counter will continue to be available across the counter. The vast majority of the drugs that we are talking about do not need a prescription in any event. They can be bought from chemists.

I confirm that the intention is that there should be generic alternatives to the branded drugs that they replace.