§ 13. Mr. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield)
If he will make a statement on trends in the prices of commonly prescribed generic drugs since 1 January. 
§ The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Denham)
The United Kingdom benefits from a competitive generic market in which prices fluctuate naturally in response to a wide range of factors. There have been reports of increases in the prices of some products since the new year, but I do not think it would be reasonable to attempt to define a trend based on the short period since 1 January 1999.
§ Mr. Burden
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. He will be aware of the on-going concern about the effectiveness or otherwise of the pharmaceutical price regulation scheme—indeed, that issue is partly addressed in the new Health Bill. Is the Minister aware of informal research conducted in Birmingham into 12 commonly prescribed drugs, which revealed that at least some have increased in price by 50 per cent. or 60 per cent. since 1 January this year? In one case, the price increased by 114 per cent. As I have said, that is informal research, but does it not suggest that consistent national research should be conducted so that we may discover what is going on in this area and be assured that the NHS, and therefore the patients, are not being ripped off by at least some pharmaceutical companies?
§ Mr. Denham
I assure my hon. Friend that we always monitor carefully the movements in pharmaceutical prices, and will continue to do so. I shall certainly examine the reported increases in the prices of some generic products since the beginning of the year.
By and large, generic prices are kept in check by the effects of competition and the reimbursement system for dispensing contractors. There were an unusually large number of shortages in the supply of certain medicines earlier this year. Those shortages appear to have been temporary—many have been resolved—but they may have been reflected in the price increases. The key point is my assurance to my hon. Friend and the House that we will monitor the situation very carefully to identify whether any other factors are at work.