HL Deb 12 July 1966 vol 276 cc72-4

2.54 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will take steps to ensure that all drugs when sold or dispensed be marked on the bottle or container with the name, whether to be applied externally or taken internally, and dosage.]


My Lords, legislation would be necessary to secure what the noble Lord proposes. The extent to which it is desirable to alter the existing law relating to the labelling of drugs is under consideration in the course of the Government's review of medicines legislation, but the Government's present view is that alteration of the current convention relating to the labelling of dispensed medicines is a matter on which it is most appropriate for the medical and pharmaceutical professions to agree among themselves. Both are currently considering the problems involved. It is highly unlikely that a preparation would be offered for counter-sale to the public without an indication of its purpose and dosage.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that in almost every medicine cupboard in the land, and, no doubt, in his and mine, there are medicines which are unidentifiable? It is not known whether they are for the head, the stomach or the chest. This is very dangerous. Moreover, is the noble Lord aware of this anomaly: that all medicines manufactured and sold as open sellers have to be labelled under an Act of Parliament of 25 years ago and the only secret remedies are those prescribed by doctors?


My Lords, on the first point may I say that I would not keep medicines hanging about in my cupboard when I had forgotten the use for which they were originally prescribed. I believe that that is a highly dangerous practice. In the case of tablets, they may well find themselves in the hands of children, where they would be very dangerous indeed. On the second point, I believe that already there is a certain degree of support within the medical profession for the desirability of giving information such as the noble Lord has mentioned. All doctors agree that there will be instances where it would not be appropriate for the patient to know the name of the prescribed drug, but many doctors, particularly the younger and less conservative, believe that the rule on naming should be the converse of that currently promulgated in the British National Formulary and that pharmacies should name the drug unless the doctor has instructed to the contrary.


My Lords, I hope that the Minister will go into this question very seriously. The women's organisations of both Parties have been worried about it for along time. I think it would be helpful if every medicine which was prescribed had a limit of time on it; that would help to have cupboards cleared after a period. Would the Minister really look into this matter and give it his urgent attention, as a lot of serious trouble arises because doctors' prescriptions are unintelligible? May I ask the Minister, if he had been given a prescription and had a forgetful nature like mine and saw on the label "T.D.: three times a day" what that would mean to him? I would ask the Minister to look at this as an urgent matter, because it would be helpful to housewives.


My Lords, I cannot hope to reply to the noble Lady's speech, but it will be carefully studied by those who will have to make decisions on this matter.


My Lords, would my noble friend not agree that all matters affecting patients' drugs are best discussed in the doctor's consulting room rather than in his waiting room?


My Lords, I am afraid that I "do not get" that one.


My Lords, as there are so many aspects of this question, could my noble friend tell us when the report on labelling and prescribing, which he has just mentioned, will be made?


No, my Lords, I am afraid I cannot give a date for that, but we recognise its importance and it will be done as soon as possible.