NHS prescription charges

Extract from Hansard, 29th November 1956 (PREM 11/1493)

The full debate is available online from Hansard.



7.12 pm

Dr. Edith Summerskill (Warrington)

I beg to move.

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the National Health Service (Hospital Charges for Drugs and Appliances) Amendment Regulations, 1956 (S.I., 1956 No. 1744). dated 7th November, 1956, a copy of which was laid before this House on 8th November, be annulled

I am well aware that this matter must have come before the Cabinet. I know precisely the procedure in a Department when action of this kind is taken. Consequently, I say that this only goes to show once more how utterly remote are the lives of the sick and poor from the minds of the Conservative Cabinet. I doubt whether it occurred to one man in the Conservative Cabinet to ask how the chronic sick would fare under these Regulations.

I would also say- I hope my right hon. Friends will not think that I am on this occasion praising my own profession overmuch- that it is a tribute to the medical profession that it has made an immediate and widespread protest. It knows that a health service has failed if cannot dispense humanity. In my opinion, that is surely the first policy for which one should look in a health service.

I now intend to quote from some of the pronouncements which have been made by the professional organisations in order to show the House that the opposition to the Government’s proposals is certainly not limited to the Labour Party. Both town and country doctors- who, in my experience, very rarely support my party- have come forward as champions for the sick against the Minister. We all appreciate the family doctor and the chemist are near the heart of the family and the little contrivances to which the poor patient has to resort to make both ends meet. These people have strongly criticised the Minister. We must ask the right hon. Gentleman why he has failed to seek their advice.

Let me remind him of what the British Medical Association said last week at a Press conference. It said that the new charges were “financial sanctions on sickness”. This is very strong language for the British Medical Association. It also said:

“Chronic cases of diabetes, heart disease, asthma, epilepsy, ulcers and anaemia would be taxed unfairly for their illnesses.”

It said that this would mean that the man bringing up a large family on a small wage would be put into a new tax class.

It also said that”…the family of four children might cost as much as £1 a week on prescriptions during ordinary epidemic illnesses.”

It said: “One effect of the raised charges might be greater self-medication, which could be a menace to the patient”.

All hon. Members know the meaning of self-medication as it was practiced in the old days before the National Health Service.

The British Medical Association also said:”…there were two essential items, on a prescription and the patient had only one shilling, then the chemist might have to decide which to give. This would be a dangerous start of partial prescriptions”.


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