Is my right hon. Friend aware that these are mere examples of how we might achieve a considerable saving of public funds? Will he consider entering into consultations with the appropriate authorities to enable us to make these economies without damaging the Health Service?
If a doctor considers that a proprietary form of drug is necessary for the treatment of his patient, he has the right to prescribe it, and I do not think it would be compatible with this right to seek to compel doctors to prescribe by approved names. On a number of occasions doctors have been asked to do this when it was thought desirable.
While entirely agreeing with the right hon. Gentleman's last remarks, may I ask him to confirm that the prices for branded drugs supplied to the National Health Service have been agreed with his Ministry—prices satisfactory to the Ministry—taking into account the research expenditure undertaken here and overseas by the manufacturers in question? Should we not get this matter into perspective?
We are negotiating the prices for these proprietary drugs under the voluntary price regulation scheme. Perhaps it is relevant to say at this point that the price of the most common preparatory equivalent of paracetamol was reduced by 15 per cent. as a result of these negotiations last October.
Would my right hon. Friend consider consulting with the medical profession to see if it would be possible to devise a system by which the cheapest equivalent preparation would be supplied by the chemist, unless the doctor specifically requested a particular manufacturer's product, as from the point of view of treatment this would produce considerable savings at no cost to the patient?
This has been considered. I am not sure that it would produce as considerable a saving as my hon. Friend thinks. However, this is another matter that comes within the ambit of the consideration of the Sainsbury Committee.