HC Deb 31 October 1995 vol 265 cc93-4
11. Ms Church

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what has been the increase in real terms in the price of prescriptions since 1978; and if he will make a statement. [38221]

Mr. Dorrell

Roughly eightfold.

Ms Church

Does the Secretary of State share the anxieties of the British Medical Association and general practitioners in my constituency that, when low-income patients have been prescribed two or more items, they actually ask their GP which of the items is the most important for them to take? Does the Minister not understand that, when two items are required, a matter of £10.50, or three items, a matter of £15.75, that is not an inconsiderable chunk out of the family budget for many of my low-income constituents? Will he join Labour Members in requesting a review of the prescription system so that we have a much more equitable system for low-income families?

Mr. Dorrell

I shall take the Labour party's commitment to a review of the prescription system a great deal more seriously when Labour Members tell us what the results of that review will be. In the meantime, the hon. Lady's low-income constituents are protected by the exemptions that already exist, which cover more than 80 per cent.—more than four out of five—of all prescriptions dispensed.

Mr. Nigel Evans

Will my right hon. Friend give a commitment that the money raised through the increase in prescription charges this year, which I believe to be £300 million, will go directly to front-line health services? That could pay for about 75,000 hip replacement operations or 235,000 cataract operations.

Mr. Dorrell

My hon. Friend expresses precisely the dilemma confronted by any of those Labour Members who may think that we could afford to do without prescription charges. Those charges are part of the financing of the health service—my hon. Friend has the right number: £300 million is raised by prescription charges and is invested in precisely the sort of patient care that he described.

Mr. Galbraith

What is the Government's position on the prescription of beta-interferon? As the Secretary of State knows, that is a drug of unproven value and its unrestricted prescription would hinder future knowledge of it. We may never find out whether it—or, indeed, any of the other available drugs—is of any value.

Mr. Dorrell

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the drug has not yet been granted its market licence. We have been working closely, both with the patients' organisations and with the profession, against the possibility that the drug will receive a licence. If it receives a licence, we have agreed with them protocols to ensure that the drug is available from those clinicians who are best qualified to make judgments about which patients are most likely to benefit from it.

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