HC Deb 24 February 1976 vol 906 cc176-8
10. Mr. Neubert

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when she intends to introduce legislation on drug prescriptions.

17. Mr. Farr

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what proposals she intends to make to limit the prescription of certain proprietary drugs.

19. Miss Fookes

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when she intends to introduce legislation on drug prescriptions.

Dr. Owen

We have no plans to add to the statutory provisions governing National Health Service prescribing.

Mr. Neubert

With 3 billion tranquilisers being prescribed every year in England and Wales, is there not a danger that if we picked up the man in the street and shook him he would rattle? Should not something more be done to control this costly cascade of pills down the public gullet?

Dr. Owen

I agree with the hon. Member's concern. Everything possible should be done to cut the prescribing bill. We are trying, by means of information to the doctors and the general public, to reduce the level of drugs prescribed. Unfortunately, however, this bill is constantly rising for the National Health Service.

Mr. Christopher Price

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is concern over the controlling of the prescription of drugs not only by general practitioners, where there is some control, but in hospitals? Is he further aware that this concern exists particularly over drugs prescribed for psychiatric purposes? Will he watch very closely the increase in the number of these drugs being prescribed and the price charged by the manufacturer?

Dr. Owen

Concern is expressed from time to time at the over-prescribing of drugs in psychiatric hospitals. There is a very difficult question of balance for doctors in dealing with disturbed patients, but wherever cases have been brought to our attention we have tried to look into them. The Hospital Advisory Service has psychiatric hospitals within its remit and is able to make representations.

Mr. Farr

Has the Minister studied the text of last week's White Paper? From it he will discover that unless the bill for prescribed drugs is limited in some way the new hospital building programme will have to be considerably slashed, because of the shortage of funds.

Dr. Owen

I do not know whether the Conservatives would be prepared to support the Government if they introduced proposals to limit prescribing by doctors. One of the problems is that the cry often goes up about clinical freedom, and we must accept that that is a valid argument. The family practitioner service is exempt from some of the cash controls, because it is a demand-oriented service and it is difficult to put it within a rigid framework. I do not think, therefore, that the case to which the hon. Member has alluded will arise.

Mr. Loyden

Does the Minister agree that one aspect that needs examination is the degree of drug pushing by private drug manufacturers? Will he consider whether the drugs industry should be nationalised? That would provide a most acceptable solution to the problem facing the National Health Service.

Dr. Owen

Labour Members have for long believed that there is a case for greater public ownership in some of those industries which carry a major public health responsibility. My hon. Friend should not underestimate the effect that the voluntary price restraint scheme has had over the years in reducing the profits of the drug industry. Those profits were unacceptable in the early 1960s, but are now at a level which is much more commensurate with the normal profitability of other sections of industry.

Mr. Grylls

Does the Minister accept that it is important to preserve the clinical freedom of doctors to prescribe what is in the best interest of the patient, and that that is what the health service is all about? It would be revolutionary and undesirable to intervene in the judgment of doctors in these cases.

Dr. Owen

I believe that we should carry the medical profession with us on this. The comments made by hon. Members on both sides of the House are often reflected in concern in the profession. It is not altogether revolutionary to make these suggestions. There are a number of countries with tougher restrictions than ours. Great advances can still be made, however, by educating the prescribing doctor and by creating a greater public awareness of the cost of various medicines. We are pursuing negotiations with the industry on both those counts.