Clause 1. — (Charges for Certain Drugs, Medicines and Appliances.)

Part of Orders of the Day — National Health Service Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th April 1952.

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Photo of Mr Walter Padley Mr Walter Padley , Ogmore 12:00 am, 8th April 1952

After the eloquent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), who has wide experience of the mining industry, and his comprehension of the human tragedy involved, the Minister should forthwith withdraw this Bill. At the very least he should take the path of moral rectitude by making it clear in the Bill that most of the appliances that injured miners need are totally excluded from the proposed payments. We are told that only four items are to be the subject of charges, and that the charges for those four will yield a sum of some £250,000. I should be interested if the Parliamentary Secretary would tell us, when she replies to the debate, what amount will be yielded by each of the four categories, surgical boots, abdominal belts, elastic hosiery, and wigs. I am sure that other hon. Members will also be interested to know how the total amount is divided.

We have had from the other side of the Committee a good deal of abstract argument. I was pleased that a recent speaker on this side of the Committee sought to clothe the abstract argument with the flesh and blood of reality and human tragedy which lie behind these charges for appliances. I shall not deal with the problem of the injured miners, because my hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda, West (Mr. Iorwerth Thomas) and for Ince have already dealt with that point, but in my constituency I have a man who needs surgical boots. I had to intervene with the Minister to get a satisfactory surgical boot made for him, so the Minister will be aware of the case.

This man also suffers from recurrent diseases, asthma and eczema. This Bill imposes charges for the prescription of drugs and medicines to relieve his eczema and asthma. From the age of five, this constituent of mine has had infantile paralysis in his right leg up to the hip. He needs surgical boots. He is a man of courage, character and some intellectual stature. He works at the Remploy Factory for seriously disabled men in my constituency. His total earnings in a full week are about £5 1s., out of which he has to meet some part of the 7s. 8d. for fares from Maesteg to Bridgend. This man, suffering, as I say, from asthma and eczema, being subject to charges for prescriptions, is now to be called upon to pay £3 for his surgical boots.

Incidentally, I should like to know from the Parliamentary Secretary what will happen in cases similar to the one I have in mind where surgical boots are made and fitted, but prove to be unsuitable so that further examinations and fittings are necessary and new surgical boots are required. Will the patient be required to pay £3 on each occasion, or will one payment suffice?

In addition, the man to whom I refer will be required to pay between 8s. and 13s. 6d. every time the boots need repair, and since, as a rule, surgical boots wear out more quickly than those which most of us use, a very real hardship will be imposed upon this man. We are entitled to know why this man and others like him are being singled out for this attack.

We have heard from hon. Members opposite that, in general, these charges are necessitated because there is abuse, but so far no hon. or right hon. Gentleman opposite has had the brass-faced impudence to claim that men and women who wear surgical boots are abusing the Health Service. What, then, is the reason for the imposition of these grave hardships on my constituent and other unfortunate men and women like him? The only case that has been put from the other side was contained in the speech of the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland when he wound up the Second Reading debate, and I propose briefly to refer to the point he made on that occasion. He said: The first of these is the argument that these charges have no relation whatsoever to our general economic difficulty, and, in particular, to our balance of payments. Every hon. Member must know that our basic problem today is to stimulate our export trade, and that they must appreciate that any reduction of home demand is bound to be a factor operating in the right direction. That is no less true if the resources set free by any particular reduction in demand do not themselves contribute directly to our exports. We have to look at the economy of the nation as a whole."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th March, 1952; Vol. 498, c. 1022.] That was the defence put up for these charges, so to solve the economic crisis my constituent, with eczema and asthma, pays the "bob" prescription when he goes to the doctor for drugs and medicines, he than pays £3 for his surgical boots necessitated by infantile paralysis, and finally, he pays his 8s. to 13s. 6d. every time the surgical boots need repair.