HC Deb 07 December 1993 vol 234 cc129-30
5. Mr. Skinner

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what are the latest figures for the price of prescription charges; and what were the comparable figures for 1979.

The Secretary of State for Health (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley)

The figures are £4.25 and 49p respectively.

Mr. Skinner

Is not the truth of the matter that the Government have revelled in sadistically attacking the sick and disabled by increasing prescription charges by more than 2,000 per cent? In those same years, the Government have also lined the pockets of the rich with £30 billion. It is not the sick and disabled who have brought the country to its knees but this rotten, lousy, evil Government. They should be made to pay the price—not the sick.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

I am afraid that there was cant as well as rant in that question. When the Labour party was in power, three items out of five were charged for; now more are free. Under our stewardship, the NHS has gained an extra £1.6 billion. The Labour party has failed to say what it would do about charges. The proceeds from charges more than pay the health costs of the hon. Gentleman's constituents; they pay them twice over each year. It is a practical commitment to an ever-improving health service, backed by the necessary resources.

Dame Jill Knight

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the one out of five persons who pay for their prescriptions are still getting a very good bargain—paying £4.25 for a prescription when the average cost is between £10 and £11?

Mrs. Bottomley

As ever, my hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. As she knows, one out of five now pay. When Labour was in power, two out of five paid. Pensioners, children and others on low incomes do not pay prescription charges, which are a contribution from those who can afford to pay towards a health service that provides for all.

Mr. Blunkett

Apart from the fact that more than 50 per cent. of prescriptions now cost less than £4.25, perhaps the Secretary of State can confirm that, as part of the Budget settlement, prescription charges are likely to rise, probably to a staggering £5 in the early new year, and that pregnant women and nursing mothers will lose their exemption from those charges?

Does the right hon. Lady agree that the amount of £53 million contrasts sharply with the £70 million which, it has been revealed, has been spent on cars for senior NHS management and staff? That expenditure has risen from £5 million to £24 million for those employed in trusts alone. Is that not a scandalous waste of vital resources that should be devoted to patient care?

Mrs. Bottomley

I hope that the House will note the predictions of the hon. Gentleman, because, once again, they will be shown to be absolutely false. We will announce the prescription arrangements in due course, but the House should note what the hon. Gentleman has predicted. Only recently, he said that the health service needed an extra £435 million. We have announced an extra £1.6 billion for it. The hon. Gentleman's predictions are always wrong and always full of doom and gloom. The House, however, is still waiting for any policies on the NHS from the hon. Gentleman.

With regard to cars for NHS staff, the hon. Gentleman has, once again, done some selective editing, because he did not take into account community nurses, doctors and all those who need transport to deliver health care in the community. No one expects a true reflection of the facts from the hon. Gentleman, but some of us are still awaiting a policy from him.

Mr. Whittingdale

Is my right hon. Friend aware that whereas 82 per cent. of prescriptions are exempt from charges in this country, the figures for Germany and France are 30 per cent. and just 4 per cent. respectively? Does she agree that, by any measure, our record in this area is extremely generous?

Mrs. Bottomley

My hon. Friend is exactly right. We have a health service which is the envy of the world. I have been able to establish that few countries impose fewer charges in their health service than we do.

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