HL Deb 11 May 1982 vol 430 cc114-5

2.39 p.m.

Lord Aylestone

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 medical practitioners are entitled to make a charge for signing an application for postal votes in local or general elections for those National Health Service patients who wish to apply for them.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Lord Trefgarne)

No, my Lords, they are not.

Lord Aylestone

My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord for his reply, may I ask him whether he is aware that I can provide sufficient evidence that this is in fact happening? May I quote just one case in Sutton and Cheam, where a housebound patient has been charged £3 for the signing of such a form?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, there is a formal complaint procedure for these matters. The local family practitioner committee would wish to look into any such case as the noble Lord describes, and the complaint should be made within eight weeks of the event; but if there is any such occurrence falling outside the ambit of the complaint procedure and the noble Lord would like to draw it to my attention, I should be happy to look into it.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, would the noble Lord the Minister check whether the publicity that is usually given in newspapers and by TV shots, particularly prior to a general election, about the facilities for postal voting includes the fact that medical practitioners should not charge for this; and if it does not include it, will he ensure that it does so in future?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, that is a very relevant point, and, again, if the noble Lord will draw my attention to any particular difficulty I shall be happy to look into it.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, will the patient have any opportunity of recouping from the errant medical practitioner in the circumstances?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I think that in the first instance that would be a matter for the family practitioner committee, to which I referred just now, but I certainly think that any wrongly made charges ought to be refunded.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, while many doctors show no reluctance to make quite heavy charges for things like private certificates, is the noble Lord aware that there is an increasing number of doctors who are beginning to resent the intrusion of direct charges between themselves and their patients? Would the noble Lord also agree that it might be helpful, not only to patients but to some younger doctors who are perhaps in ignorance about these matters, if he would publish a list of the items which doctors are required to supply free of charge to patients on their National Health Service lists, such as a certificate to exempt from jury service, and so on?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I think the occasions when doctors should or should not charge for certificates of this nature are quite clearly laid down in the doctors' terms of service, and the matter which is referred to in the Question is in fact covered by paragraph 31 of the doctors' terms of service, so I would not necessarily agree that there is need for greater clarification of these matters; but I am certainly open to be convinced if the noble Lord wants to persuade me otherwise. As for the wish of doctors to charge or not to charge, there are circumstances, I think, when doctors should very properly make a charge for an examination, particularly when a patient is not suffering from any particular disease but needs a certificate for some private purpose. I gather, for example, that a number of London doctors were somewhat concerned recently to be asked to examine people prior to the recent London marathon to make sure that they were fit to participate in that event; but that, perhaps, is another matter.