Clause 39 - Payments in respect of optical appliances

Health Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:30 pm on 10th January 2006.

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Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Shadow Minister (Health) 5:30 pm, 10th January 2006

I beg to move amendment No. 80, in clause 39, page 36, line 7, at end insert—

'( ) A description set out under subsection (2) shall include any person unqualified to dispense optical appliances to persons under the age of 16.'.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 119, in clause 39, page 36, line 7, at end insert

'which may include persons unqualified to dispense optical appliances to persons under the age of 16.'.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Shadow Minister (Health)

The clause is to be welcomed. We have heard several references today to the need to address fraud in the system, although there have been disputes about the extent of that fraud. The clause is a welcome step towards making sure that PCTs have added powers to put checks in place to make sure that the voucher system is not abused in any way. We have heard from the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire, who has on display an array of spectacles from a variety of outlets. I am sure that they are all bona fide outlets, but I understand that the profession has concerns about unscrupulous providers who may abuse the system, particularly in relation to spectacles that may be bought over the internet.

The purpose of the amendment is to strengthen the clause slightly to make it clear that the only people who are allowed to dispense spectacles to children are optometrists, qualified ophthalmic dispensers and doctors. That builds in a further safeguard that would not only protect children's health, but make sure that the voucher system—it is frequently children who have vouchers for glasses—is not open to further abuse. That is the purpose of the amendment.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health) 5:45 pm, 10th January 2006

The amendments are alternatives, both of which seek to restrict to registered opticians or medical practitioners those who might receive payment for the supply, repair or replacement of optical appliances. Amendment No. 80 seeks to make it mandatory and amendment No. 119 would create a regulation-making power. I support the hon. Gentleman's general intention. We are committed to ensuring that payments for optical appliances are made appropriately when work has been carried out properly and legally. The law already requires that sales of optical appliances for children and most such sales to adults be made under the supervision of a registered optician or medical practitioner. Our view is that the supervision of sales of optical appliances by a registered dispensing optician, optometrist or medical practitioner offers adequate protection.

As we discussed earlier, businesses might be owned by people who are not members of one of those three clinical professions. So long as they employ qualified professionals to supervise sales, those sales are proper and optical vouchers may be used to make the purchases. I therefore suggest that amendments Nos. 80 and 119 be rejected. However, I understand the   concern, which has been rightly voiced, that we should reconfirm the importance of ensuring that qualified practitioners are involved in the sale of those accessories.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Shadow Minister (Health)

I have listened carefully to the Minister. She was fairly conciliatory, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

We intend to make it a condition of receiving payments for optical vouchers that individuals or companies make available records relating to the transaction when required to do so by a PCT. Failure to comply with that condition would be sufficient reason for a PCT to refuse to make payments, as it could give grounds for concern that the money could not be accounted for and that there was, therefore, a clear risk that public funds were being misused. That is an important aspect of ensuring that the vouchers are used in a way that is above board and that the scheme is implemented properly.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 39 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

There is now a long list of clauses without any amendments, so I shall announce the clause stand part and take them in a group. If any hon. Member wishes to speak to clause stand part on any of them, he should stand so that I can be aware of that, and we will take the preceding group. I hope that that is clear.

Clause 40 ordered to stand part of the Bill.