Clause 7. — (Removal of Hardships.)

Part of Orders of the Day — National Health Service (Amendment) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th December 1949.

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Photo of Mr Philip Piratin Mr Philip Piratin , Stepney Mile End 12:00 am, 9th December 1949

Evidently the Minister did not hear me, as that is exactly what I said. I said that arising from the statement of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor's statement in October and the publicity, there has been less demand and I accept that there has been less demand. But has the Minister got proof, and is he satisfied, that this lesser demand arises from the fact that the abusers have stopped abusing, or may it come from the fact that some people are hesitant now in going to doctors because they are afraid they may land themselves into some kind of prescription which may later on incur a charge and the public are not sure when it may be made? We have not had a hint of the time.

I was a member of the Standing Committee which discussed this matter three years ago. We were all very pleased with most of the points in the Bill. One of the points the Minister made on the Second Reading on 30th April, 1946, was: it has been the firm conclusion of all parties that money ought not to be permitted to stand in the way of obtaining an efficient Health Service. A few lines later he said: It is cardinal to a proper health organisation that a person ought not to be financially deterred from seeking medical assistance at the earliest possible stage."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 30th April, 1946; Vol. 422, c. 43.] That was the particular point to which the hon. Member for Barking referred several times in the course of his very important speech this morning, that no patient should be deterred because of incurring a financial charge, but now the Minister proposes that the patient should incur this charge. It is clear that there is widespread opposition, for what the Minister said in April, 1946, was true—that was the view of all parties and all enlightened persons; and now this charge, however small it may be in relation to the overall expenditure of more than £300 million on health, is a step away from the principle that he laid down rightly and wisely three and a half years ago. It is, therefore, no surprise now to see a united front between the British Medical Association and the Socialist Medical Association. It is no surprise because that was the principle to which everyone agreed.

This morning the Minister showed his attitude when he replied to one half of the Debate in the course of which he appeared to be so conciliatory. I feel hon. Members should not accept so easily what the Minister said, however much he may intend, or would like to intend, that the proposed charge should be a temporary charge. The hon. Member for Preston (Dr. Segal) made reference to this. I believe the Minister would like it to be a temporary charge and I believe frankly, that the Government would like it to be a temporary charge, but as other circumstances are pushing the Government in certain directions, this may not only become more than a temporary charge, but other charges may yet be introduced.

I ask the Minister to note particularly what the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Linstead) said this morning when he almost anticipated this as a precedent for other charges. In fact, that is the line which many of the Tories have been plugging for a long time. While the Minister rightly said that in this Amendment he is confined to pharmaceutical matters, there will be pressure from the other side of the House and by economic circumstances for this to be extended.

The reason, in fact, is not abuse, whatever evidence the Minister may have of that and whatever evidence the Estimates Committee may have presented on that. The main reason is that which was given by the Chancellor and the Prime Minister—an economic one. In this connection, several hon. Members have asked Questions of the Minister in the last few weeks about taking steps in connection with the drug industry and reducing the charges for medicaments. May I draw his attention to some of the profits that are made, because if we are to discuss the question in all its aspects of whether there is need for this Amendment to be introduced and whether the money can be. saved in some other way than by imposing burdens on patients, these are matters which we cannot overlook.

I have a list of about a dozen cases, but I will give only two or three in order not to burden the House unduly. The names are popular household names. Glaxo Laboratories who, among other things, produce penicillin, made a profit in 1948 of £1,641,000 and a net profit of £660,000. In 1949 it was £2,605,000 and a net profit of £930,000. As the directors are very good, patriotic citizens, this firm obeyed the requests of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and did not increase their dividends. In 1948 they distributed 125 per cent. and so they confined them in 1949 to 125 per cent. If there was a case for saving expenditure, then the Government could save expenditure if they sought to cut down the prices these firms are charging, for these profits show there is plenty of scope for their prices to be cut.