Can the right hon. Gentleman deny that he has had many representations about the hardships of this prescription charge? Is he aware that at a recent conference the chairman of the B.M.A. stated that the Minister had given him a personal undertaking that he would review this between six and eight months after the scheme had been introduced? Is this correct?
I would not say that I have entered into a commitment as to six to eight months, but I have said that later it will be possible to see much better than we can see at present how this is working. There is no immediate ground that I can see for a special inquiry.
Has not the time come to make this investigation, since the Minister told the House that he based his evidence on a fall of 7½ million in prescriptions over 12 months and there has been a fall of more than 6½ million in the first three months since the prescription charge went up? Is not that a good reason for re-investigating the position now?
No, Sir. The number of factors which affect prescriptions in an individual month is so variable—
This was three months.
It is impossible even on a quarter to judge the trend. In the last two months for which statistics are available the number of prescriptions was broadly in line with previous years.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that a rather irresponsible answer? Bearing in mind that these executive councils comprise representatives of professional people—the family doctor, the pharmacist and the dentist—in daily contact with those at the receiving end of the Health Service, representatives of local authorities and nominees of the Minister, does he not think that their representations should be treated more seriously? Does he not also think that to treat people in this way is a great discouragement to their coming forward to take part in voluntary administrative services in the National Health Service?
I have certainly taken note of the views expressed by these bodies, and have done so with full seriousness, but there is nothing in them to weigh against the reasons that brought this House to its decision earlier this year.
Will the right hon. Gentleman not heed the protests made by these executive councils which have, as my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths) has said, very many professional representatives on them? If the Government are not prepared to do so, does it not prove the incompetence of the present administration; and that they should get out?
I have no evidence that the arrangements are not working satisfactorily or are creating hardship, but I have offered—and this, I am sure, is known to the executive councils—to consider in detail any evidence of ways in which the arrangements are not working satisfactorily or of hardship that is arising.
Does the Minister realise that his previous replies have always been that he has not had enough evidence from us, but that his reluctance to do anything has been due to political objections? These are the people who are doing the day-to-day work and are in contact with the various bodies? Does he not think that this kind of answer is an insult to these people who are doing the job?
The fact remains that these resolutions do not contain any evidence bearing upon the matter, but I would wish it to be clearly understood that my reply does not involve any discourtesy to the bodies concerned.
Has the Minister taken the trouble to communicate with these very large numbers of executive councils, who really are the best judges of matters of this kind, and to ask them why they protest against the changes he has made? Will he not, on reflection, realise that his answer to these protests amounts to an almost contemptuous disregard of the feelings and of the knowledge possessed by these executive councils?
On the contrary, a month or two ago I received a deputation from the association that represents all these bodies. I discussed this matter with them, and I indicated the reasons why the Government and the House had come to their decisions.
Why did the Minister set up these executive councils if he is not prepared to accept the views they express after proper consideration? Will he tell the House how satisfied the members of the deputation were with the answer he says that he gave them when they saw him?
I reminded them of the arrangements that had been made for avoidance of any hardship, and I repeated to them my readiness to receive any advice or evidence upon the working of these arrangements, or upon their effect.
Has the right hon. Gentleman read these protests? Is he aware that, in particular, the West Bromwich executive council protested because it felt that those on fixed incomes just above the National Assistance level would suffer very considerable hardship from this change? Is he also aware that that executive council felt that the Changes would produce more barriers between patients and doctors, which concerned the council very much indeed?
There is no evidence in recent movements of prescription statistics that the change is proving a barrier in the way anticipated; the arrangements of which I have often spoken in this House and elsewhere for avoiding hardship are not limited to those in receipt of regular National Assistance payments.
It is obvious that as the months 20 on we shall be in a better position to judge the actual effect, but I repeat that it is still much too early to be able to form any sound view of the way in which these arrangements are operating.
asked the Minister of Health whether, in view of the fact that 48 local executive councils have now written to him protesting against the increased charges for prescriptions, and that these councils were appointed by him, he will take steps to meet the request of the Leicester Executive Council and their colleagues by removing these charges.
I have no such proposals.
Is not the trouble that the approach by the Minister to these matters is entirely different from that of the executive councils in that the Minister is concerned with Treasury economy while the executive councils are concerned with the welfare of the community?
Not merely with economy, but the Government must take a wider and more comprehensive view than that of the executive councils.
asked the Minister of Health if he has considered the representations made to him by the Essex Local Executive Council and other Essex authorities and organisations in respect of the 2s. prescription charge; what reply he has given regarding the hardship arising from the increased charges; approximately what has been the increase in receipts derived from this charge in the Essex area; and what reduction of prescriptions there has been.
Yes, Sir; and I have explained the arrangements for avoiding hardship. In the four months March to June, about 84 per cent. and 8 per cent. respectively, compared with 1960.
Would not the Minister agree that the representations made by this body are both significant and impressive, and could the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House what reply he gave to the arguments adduced by this body? Would he also agree that there is evidence of a certain amount of hardship due to the increase in prescription charges?
I say again that I stand ready to receive any evidence of cases of hardship and to look into them individually.
None beyond the arrangements already announced for avoidance of hardship; but if the right hon. Member has any specific case in mind, I shall be glad to look into it.
I thought that this Question had already been answered. It was impossible to hear whether or not that was so at the time.