Does the Minister agree that this is a very alarming trend? Does not he also agree that, quite apart from the dissatisfaction with remuneration and conditions of service in the National Health Service, one of the reasons why the number of general practitioners is falling is that their waiting rooms are being filled more and more by people who are waiting for prescriptions, and whose only complaint is that they refuse to pay for their own aspirins or cotton wool?
No, Sir. I have no evidence that this is a significant factor. We should get this matter in proportion. Expressed as a percentage of the number of principals, the decrease in the year ended 1st October this year was 1·08 per cent. In a period when the image of general practice has suffered from the publicity given to the discontent felt by doctors, it is not surprising that the numbers have fallen.
No, Sir. It is a fact that a rather disturbingly high proportion has consisted of general practitioners of under 45 years of age. I hope that when the new contract goes to the review body for pricing and is accepted—as I hope it will be—by general practitioners, this trend will be reversed.
As I have told the right hon. Gentleman before, this matter is under urgent consideration by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, who will be making a statement to the House about it as soon as possible. The right hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that there has been a further increase in the intake of students into the medical schools in this academic year.