Prescriptions

Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th June 1996.

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Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike , Burnley 12:00 am, 18th June 1996

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what percentage of prescriptions issued in the last 12 months were for more than one item. [31703]

Photo of Mr John Bowis Mr John Bowis , Battersea

It is estimated that 40 per cent. of prescription forms dispensed in the past 12 months were for more than one item.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike , Burnley

Does the Minister recognise that many people on low incomes who have to pay full prescription charges for two items every month have considerable difficulty meeting that cost? They cannot afford to pay for pre-payment certificates and there is a problem. Does he also recognise that there is a particular problem with dual packs, for which people have to pay two prescription charges?

Photo of Mr John Bowis Mr John Bowis , Battersea

The hon. Gentleman referred to people on low incomes. If they are on income support, they do not have to pay for prescriptions. I remind him that, when the Labour Government reintroduced prescription charges, exemptions ran at 42 per cent. The rate is now 85 per cent. A further 5 per cent. of people benefit from pre-payment certificates, to which he referred.

He can set those people's minds at rest. It is true that there are two charges for a combination pack. That is because two drugs are packed together. If it were otherwise, it would be quite unfair on people who pay for multiple prescriptions. Curiously, any change would also be a perverse incentive to manufacturers to package their drugs in combination packs.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham , North West Norfolk

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for spelling out the exemptions. Will he explain the different categories of people who get free prescriptions?

Photo of Mr John Bowis Mr John Bowis , Battersea

Yes, I will. Those who are exempted from prescription charges are men and women aged 60 and over, children under 16, students under 19, a person or partner receiving income support, family credit or disability working allowance, people entitled to full help under the NHS low income scheme, pregnant women and women who have had a child in the previous 12 months, and people who receive a war or Ministry of Defence disablement pension who need medication for that disablement. In addition, some medical conditions carry exemption. A tremendous number of people are exempt. We have one of the most generous exemption systems in Europe, which is why we can say that the vast majority of people who cannot afford to pay are well covered by it.

Photo of Mrs Alice Mahon Mrs Alice Mahon , Halifax

Is it not the case that many students, even those below income support level, do not receive free prescriptions? Would the Minister like to comment on that?

Photo of Mr John Bowis Mr John Bowis , Battersea

If the hon. Lady is saying that people below income support level are not receiving free prescriptions, they are entitled to do so. The hon. Lady has only to add up the numbers about which we are talking—[Interruption.] I am sure that she can add up. If the total adds up to the 85 per cent. of British people who are entitled to free prescriptions, and a further 5 per cent. who benefit from the pre-payment certificates, she will see that there is not a problem. She will also see that it is a much more generous system than it was when the Labour Government reintroduced prescription charges.

Photo of Mrs Alice Mahon Mrs Alice Mahon , Halifax

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I take points of order after Questions.

Photo of Mrs Alice Mahon Mrs Alice Mahon , Halifax

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I give notice that I intend to raise the matter on the Adjournment—

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. The hon. Lady did not ask the substantive question, so I am afraid that she does not have the opportunity to do that.