HL Deb 14 July 1981 vol 422 cc1114-5

2.40 p.m.

Lord Molloy

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is the result of their continuing consideration of exemption from prescription charges for the unemployed and other groups (Official Report, 29/6/81; col. 7).

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, there have been no developments since 29th June to change the Answer I gave on that date. The Government have always been concerned that no one should be deterred, on financial grounds, from seeking the treatment he needs and, for this reason, on each occasion when the prescription charge has been increased the income level at which people may claim low-income exemption has been raised. The Government feel that by this method help is available to a far wider section of the community who are living on a low income than would be the case if help was restricted to specified groups—many of whom have other resources.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply, and encouraged by the fact that the lower income groups might stand a better chance of relief from the pain and suffering that everyone endures when there is an illness in a family. May I please ask the noble Lord whether he would not agree that after the most fearful war in world history this nation created a completely free National Health Service which became part and parcel of the texture of our way of life, and that that now seems to be run down? And in these days, when so many people are unemployed, would he not agree that it must be a blot on any society if people have to decide whether they can have pain relieved because they may not be able to afford to?

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, this really does seem rather wide of the Question. The National Health Service is in no way run down. It is one of the very few growth industries in the country today, with more real money made available annually. Therefore, I do not think I can answer the rest of the noble Lord's question.

Lord Spens

My Lords, can the Minister tell us how the prescription charge of £1 relates to the average cost of the service which is being provided?

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

Yes, my Lords. The average cost of a prescription is currently £3.37, so the £1 charge is considerably under one-third of the cost.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the Government's policy of increasing prescription charges so frequently, and at such a very high level at the moment, is imposing considerable hardship, particularly upon people who need to have more than one drug? This is something I hope the Government will reconsider.

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, the Government are well aware of that, and in inflationary times this is pretty difficult to avoid. I would say that out of all the prescriptions—and there are something over 300 million per annum in England—68 per cent. are given free of charge and 6 per cent. are provided on the basis of prepayment certificates, or season tickets as they are better known.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, is it possible for the Government to make known these facilities to people on lower incomes, in view of the fact that large numbers of them are completely unaware of these facilities at the moment?

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

This is a continuing worry, my Lords, not only in this case but in all matters of benefits. The Government make strenuous efforts to make this information available. It is of course well known in all the offices around the country, but the question of take-up is a perpetual worry which does not apply just today but has always applied.

Lord Whaddon

My Lords, may I ask the Minister to inform the House of the cost of administering the collection of the £1 prescription charge and of administering the exemptions, and how one compares with the other?

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

I wish I could, my Lords, but I am afraid I cannot.