The Right Honourable Sir Mark Oliver Saville, Knight, a Lord Justice of Appeal, having been appointed a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and thereby created a Baron for life, by the style and title of Baron Saville of Newdigate, of Newdigate in the County of Surrey--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Mustill and the Lord Steyn.
Lord Calverley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for a very reassuring answer. Unfortunately, some of the thunder has been stolen from my Question, as has just been explained. However, is the Minister aware of an expose on the BBC "Panorama" programme some weeks ago which highlighted a very serious problem? A small minority of GPs were misusing an archaic paper-sift system by ghosting patients and over-prescribing. In some cases, they were even prescribing to deceased patients. Does she agree that the introduction of a computerised costing system within the NHS would reap great benefit for a cash-strapped service?
Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, can the noble Baroness give any figures or a guesstimate of what the powers-that-be consider to be the total amount of money fiddled? Can she confirm that a considerable sum is involved, especially if added to the money being fiddled on housing, as noted in the latest report of the National Audit Office and the Audit Commission? Does she agree that it is no wonder that some vital services in the country, such as the health service, are badly short of funding when money is stolen at such a rate?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, undoubtedly it is a serious problem. The estimate of theft and forgery with prescription forms, which was the subject of the original Question, is that approximately £15 million annually is lost. On patient charge evasion, the sum is in the region of £70 million to £100 million. Clearly, it is money worth saving.
The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, can the noble Baroness inform the House how many patients have been prosecuted over the past 12 months and how many medical practitioners have appeared before the General Medical Council?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot give an answer to the second question about the General Medical Council. I shall write to the noble Lord. I imagine that he refers specifically to the problem of prescription fraud. It is extremely difficult to identify patients who are defrauding the system. People simply present forms and, when asked if they are exempt, claim that they are when they are not. One proposal of the report, which was the subject of the initial Question, accepted by the Government, is that evading charges should become a criminal offence and be subject to the kind of standard fine which is, for example, appropriate for a motoring offence.
Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is a view around that a vendetta is being exercised by the Government against old age pensioners, both current and future? Will she put matters right by giving an undertaking that no charges will be introduced for prescriptions for old age pensioners during the life of this Government?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, as I am sure the noble Baroness is aware, the comprehensive spending review, which is looking at all subjects of expenditure and cost-raising under the NHS, is being undertaken by the Department of Health. There is a firm
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I am not quite clear about the reply to the question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege. Am I to understand that the Minister said that this Government are not ruling out the possibility that they will introduce prescription charges for old age pensioners?
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, as the Minister says, there was always a right to recoup some of the costs. But how do the Government reconcile the new proposal--the extra collection mentioned by the Minister--with the principle that the National Health Service should be free at the point of delivery, particularly in view of her answer to the previous Question? Also, do the Government have any plans to extend the new tax to other claims against insured third parties for matters such as breaches of safety at work, defective goods or premises, or indeed for train accidents?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. To take her second point first, it is true that the Law Commission made some recommendations on the wider use of this type of recovery of payment. For example, its proposal said that
Baroness Young: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. However, will he accept that the new article is a wide-ranging extension of anti-discrimination legislation covering, as it does, religion, sex and sexual orientation? It contains inherent contradictions and could cause serious problems in the United Kingdom, particularly for church schools and, I suspect, for the established Church.
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