HL Deb 05 December 1983 vol 445 cc873-5

2.43 p.m.

Lord De Freyne

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will give an assurance that, should an independent blood supply organisation be established following their decision to charge a handling fee for blood used in private hospitals, it will be subject to the existing safeguards.

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

My Lords, I can confirm that anyone intending to collect and supply human blood for transfusion would have to meet the licensing requirements of the Medicines Act. However, the Government are, rightly, proud of the National Blood Transfusion Service and the voluntary donation system on which it is based, and would discourage any moves to establish an independent blood supply organisation.

Lord De Freyne

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Everyone, I know, is conscious of the need these days to help the public services pay their way, but in view of the growing public concern at the proposed handling charge (or, could I say, blood money?) may I ask the Minister whether he would not agree that when money enters the matter it opens the door for malpractice or commercialisation, which I believe is the case in America? Is it morally correct to make any charge for blood given freely and voluntarily, as has always been the way of our traditional donor system in the United Kingdom?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I think my noble friend may be under some misapprehension. The blood itself is not being charged for. It is a handling charge, as I think is now widely realised. We believe that the independent sector should pay for the cost of services provided by the National Health Service. There has been a rapid growth in the quantity of blood provided to private hospitals, and a rising cost to public funds of handling and transporting it. We have decided, therefore, that in line with other services offered to the independent sector, it would be equitable and logical to make an economic charge to reimburse the regional health authorities for the cost of collecting, processing, handling and transporting blood and blood derivatives.

Baroness Hylton-Foster

My Lords, could the charge to private hospitals lead to an increase in charges to the patients? If so, is this fair in view of the fact that they have already paid their national health contributions?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, if they are getting blood at private hospitals it is for them to pay and/or to take the matter up with their insurance companies, if that is the way they deal with these things.

Baroness Vickers

My Lords, as chairman of the Greater London Fund for Blood Transfusion—and this concerns liquid blood—may I ask my noble friend to make it quite clear that the money is not for the blood but is purely for the costs of administration? We have recently had a very helpful development by way of getting off VAT, so the charges will not be quite so high. Instead of charging every individual person for this administration, we should like to have a yearly grant, which I think would be a much better way of running it.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I do not think that I can comment on the question of a grant in the way the noble Baroness has described it, but I can say that we would certainly do everything in our power—we have already done quite a lot—to make plain to the public at large that we are not charging for blood but merely for the handling of it, which I described just now.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that we on these Benches welcome the statement that the Government do not intend to privatise blood? The other point about which I should like to ask—and I think it is relevant—is whether it is a fact that we are still importing blood. If that is the case, should not the full charge be made for the price paid for blood from overseas?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, we are not importing blood. We are self-sufficient in whole blood, but we need to import blood products such as Factor VIII, to which I think the noble Lord was referring.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the Minister aware that since the increase in private medicine this issue of transferring blood from one place to another has raised a few problems? While I, and, I think, the associations within the Health Service, accept and welcome the statement that he has just made, nevertheless there are problems which are neither administrative nor economic which are giving concern to the relevant sector of the British Medical Association and the Confederation of Health Service Employees. Would it be possible for the noble Lord's right honourable friend in another place to see both these organisations in order to ascertain precisely what their apprehensions are?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am not aware of the apprehensions to which the noble Lord refers. I am quite sure that my right honourable friend will note what he says.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a higher proportion of those who use independent medicine give their blood to the transfusion service than of those who use only the NHS? In those circumstances, would not separate blood banks not only be thoroughly undesirable but positively detrimental to the NHS?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the National Blood Transfusion Service is equipped and has the expertise to meet all demands for blood and, provided we make the optimum use of all the blood received, there should be no need for private panels. The introductions of such panels, which I think is what the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, is suggesting, whether voluntary or paid, could only be detrimental to the service's own voluntary system.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he can give an assurance that old blood—blood that has passed its recommended date of use—will not be passed on to private hospitals?

Lord Glenarthur

Yes, my Lords, I can give the noble Baroness that assurance.

Lord De Freyne

My Lords, can my noble friend give an indication as to what the handling fee will be? I gather from the British Medical Association that it will cost about £18 per unit; that is, three-quarters of a pint. Is that correct?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the precise level of charge is so far not fixed. We shall be discussing this, together with the operative date when it will come into effect, with representatives of the National Health Service and the private sector; but we anticipate that the handling charge per unit of whole blood will be around £19. That is just a projected figure at the moment.

Lord Morris

My Lords, will there be a charge for blue blood?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I shall wait until I see whether the noble Lord is prepared to deliver some, and then I will see what arrangements can be made.