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Thursday, 12 November 1959


Omit proposed section eighty-seven.

Proposed section 87 provides for a charge to be made for prescriptions issued under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. The reasons for my amendment were fully stated by me in my speech during the second-reading debate. I would merely therefore say that nothing that has been said in reply on behalf of the Government has altered the view of the Opposition in this respect. The charge of 5s. for each prescription will certainly not achieve the professed purpose stated by the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) of curbing unnecessary wasteful and uninhibited prescribing by doctors. On the other hand, it will impose quite serious hardship on people in poor circumstances, particularly those suffering a condition of health that requires them continually to take drugs or medicines.

I would remind the committee that the proposed fee of 5s. in respect of each prescription will apply to many pensioners in the community. Indeed, it will apply to an increasing proportion of pensioners because since November, 1955, every new entrant to the pensioner ranks who has other income of £2 a week or more is refused a pensioner's medical card and entitlement under the pensioner medical and pharmaceutical scheme. Therefore, every one with an income of a bare £6 15s. a week or more will be required to pay this new tax or levy of 5s., in many cases for drugs and medicine that for the past eight years have been provided to that person entirely free of charge. This is a retrograde step. It imposes a new burden on the poorer section of the community. The charge obviously will mean nothing to the man in the very high income bracket because about half of what he will pay for the prescription will be returned to him as tax rebate. It is a sectional tax applying with particular viciousness to the poorest section of the community. It will raise money for the Treasury, but that was not the justification given for it by the Minister. He stated, as an incidental fact, that this charge will raise more than £5,000,000 a year for the Treasury. That sum will be raised at the expense of the poor, the aged, and the sick. The charge will impose on chemists throughout the country an obligation to become tax collectors on behalf of the Commonwealth.

Above all those matters, the imposition of the charge flies in the face of the experience of other countries. As I have shown from the report of the expert Hinchliffe committee, this matter was investigated in the United Kingdom. The eminent medical men and health experts on that committee set their faces against a dispensing or prescription charge as a means of curbing excessive, wasteful and uninhibited prescribing. The plain fact is that the 5s. charge will press heavily on the patient who has no say in what prescriptions shall be written for him. It will press heavily on the chemists, who have the unenviable task of collecting it from people some of whom will not be able to afford to pay and who have been accustomed to receiving those drugs free for the past eight years. It will not deter the doctor who wishes to attract patients to himself at the expense of his medical colleagues by unnecessary over-prescribing.

For all those reasons we believe this charge is a crude and ineffective method of achieving the Government's professed purpose of curbing unnecessary dispensing. Instead the Government should pay attention to the many recommendations made on this subject by such bodies as the Hinchliffe committee.

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