HL Deb 09 February 1993 vol 542 cc533-4

3.2 p.m.

Baroness Nicol asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the average time taken to reimburse pharmacists for work on NHS prescriptions.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege)

My Lords, pharmacists receive some 80 per cent. of their National Health Service fees and payments within a month of submitting their prescriptions to the Prescription Pricing Authority. The balance is paid a month later when the authority has calculated the exact payment due.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer. However, does she accept that it is somewhat at variance with the information which I have been given? Is she therefore satisfied that her information is complete? Does she accept that my information is that on average £189 million at any one time is withheld from pharmacists for up to 90 days? Does she consider that this is in line with the Government's policy of supporting small businesses? Does she understand that this can impose considerable burdens on small community pharmacists who have a liquidity problem like any other small businessman? Will she look further into the matter?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I should be delighted to look further into the matter. However, it would not be possible for the Prescription Pricing Authority to calculate 100 per cent. of all prescriptions within one month. The maximum it can achieve is estimated at around 95 per cent. However, the cost of moving from a payment level of 80 per cent. to one of 95 per cent. would be between £45 million and £50 million.

Lord Desai

My Lords, is the Minister happy that at present the total amount owed by the Government is estimated to be £459 million? Not all of that sum has been owed for a long time. Cannot something be done to make some payment in advance or speed up payment so that small businesses do not suffer?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I am aware that pharmacists find this a bitter pill to swallow. However, the 1990 CBI, Cork Gully survey showed that a significant number of firms were obliged to accept a period of 60 days or more for payment. One in five businesses are accustomed to normal payments exceeding 75 days. That compares favourably with the department's record of paying 80 per cent. within one month of pharmacists submitting their prescriptions to the Prescription Pricing Authority.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, to put the figures of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, into perspective, will my noble friend say what is the total amount paid each year to pharmacists by Her Majesty's Government?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, the total amount paid to pharmacists in terms of fees and charges is £206 million.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that the period of two months or 60 days which she mentioned is probably acceptable to the small pharmacist, but it is the payments after 90 days that cause the problem? I hope that she will be able to look into that matter.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I have given an undertaking to look further into the matter.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, will the Minister think again about her answer to the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale? When she was asked about the total amount paid to pharmacists she gave a figure of £206 million for fees and charges. Will she tell the House the sum that is paid to pharmacists for drugs, which I think is the figure that is required?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I regret to say that the figure that I gave was for the costs of pharmacy that are met from charges that are paid by patients. Of course 80 per cent. of all items that are currently dispensed are free of charge. I shall inform the noble Lord in due course of the figure which he seeks.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, has the revision of dispensing fees for pharmacists for 1992 been held up—that was due in April 1992—in the same way as it has for dispensing doctors?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, the system is complicated. I am prepared to let the noble Countess know in full the differences between the dispensing doctors and pharmacists. There are some differences which are difficult to elucidate upon at the moment. I am prepared to do that but it would take a long time. I would rather write to the noble Countess in due course.

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