§ Mr. Ashley
To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) pursuant to the answer to the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South on 26 October whether the main suppliers who have offered to supply commercial hearing aid equipment to the National Health Service at reduced prices are now charging the National Health Service the same prices as those charged to private hearing aid dispensers; what is meant by the term main suppliers; and which suppliers are still charging the National Health Service more than they charge the private sector;
(2) pursuant to the answer to the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South on 26 October, if he will request those suppliers of hearing aids who have overcharged the National Health Service either to pay immediate compensation or to lower their prices for a fixed period to such an extent as to fully compensate the National Health Service.
§ Mrs. Virgina Bottomley
Mersey RHA has completed negotiations on behalf of the NHS with the relatively small group of suppliers who provide commercial hearing aid products to the NHS for special requirement which fall outside that of the established NHS hearing aid range. The NHS accounts for only a small market share of such products in this country.
We welcome the fact that all the suppliers concerned have agreed to supply the NHS at the same wholesale prices as supplied to private hearing aid dispensers. Contract terms and conditions are being established with each supplier by Mersey RHA and the new prices will be effective nationally from 1 December 1989. Suppliers have previously provided hearing aids on the basis of contracts freely entered into by individual health authorities. In 386W these circumstances where there is no evidence of any breach of contract it would not be appropriate to claim compensation.
§ Mr. Ashley
To ask the Secretary of State for Health, pursuant to the answer to the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South on 26 October, if the National Health Service procurement directorate routinely compares prices charged to the National Health Service with those charged to the private sector; when was the last occasion that a major supplier was found to be charging the National Health Service more than the private sector; and what action was taken.
§ Mrs. Virginia Bottomley
Action is continuously taken by NHS purchasing officers to secure more competitive prices by reference to market or other conditions. It would not be practicable for the procurement directorate to monitor every price charged to the 3,000 points of delivery that exist in the NHS, or to ensure that prices were always lower than those charged to every other purchaser. The NHS is by no means always a main or dominant purchaser, and prices may vary between health authorities according to delivery, service and volume requirements.