§ 13. Mr. Knapman
To ask the Secretary of State for Health what percentage of National Health Service prescriptions are free of charge; and what is the comparable figure for 1979.
§ Mrs. Virginia Bottomley
In 1988, 77.5 per cent. of prescriptions dispensed by pharmacies were dispensed free of charge. This compares with 60.9 per cent. in 1979.
§ Mr. Knapman
Is it not basic common sense that the one person in four who can readily afford to make such contributions should do so, thereby further expanding NHS services?
§ Mrs. Bottomley
Yes. The prescription charge is relatively modest and it is appropriate that the one in four who can reasonably pay should do so. The Government's responsibility is to put patients first—to ensure that resources are used effectively and efficiently—and the fact that there has been such a significant increase in the number of prescriptions given free of charge is a demonstration of the Government's commitment to patients.
§ Mr. Robin Cook
By what percentage have eye tests dropped since they stopped being free of charge? Will the Minister confirm that, on present trends, we are on course for 3 million fewer eye tests this year?
Last year, the Secretary of State told the House that he did not believe the optometrists when they warned that charges would deter people from having eye tests. Given the stark evidence of the dramatic drop in the number of eye tests, do Ministers believe that now?
§ Mrs. Bottomley
I will take no sermons from the hon. Gentleman about the provision of care. We intend to review the take-up of eye tests but it was, after all, the hon. Gentleman's party, when in office, which cut capital spending, nurses'. pay and the NHS budget. This Government have increased nurses' pay, and allowed record spending on the Health Service, which has led to an extra 25,000 patients a week being treated. We have a record to be proud of.
§ Mr. John Marshall
Will my hon. Friend confirm that 92 per cent. of the cost of drugs is paid by the taxpayer? Does that and the wide variation in drugs prescribed by doctors not underline the case for indicative drug budgets?