Seanad Éireann - Volume 40 - 20 December, 1951
Pharmacy Bill, 1951—Second and Subsequent Stages.
Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Minister for Health (Dr. Ryan) James Ryan
Minister for Health (Dr. Ryan): There are at the present time two classes of pharmacists functioning in this country. The first is the pharmaceutical chemist whose position was regulated by an Act passed in 1875, under which he was empowered to keep open shop for the sale of poisons and to dispense the prescriptions of medical practitioners. The second is the registered druggist who is authorised to mix and sell poisons, but not to dispense medical prescriptions. The registered druggist was not provided for in the Act of 1875, but in an amending Act passed in 1890. The justification for the new grade was found in the shortage of pharmaceutical chemists which existed at that time in certain parts of the country. A serious flaw in the amending Act of 1890 was that the examination of druggists was defined in too much detail, and although it probably was satisfactory at that time it does not now meet requirements.
However, the main point is that there are no shortages of pharmaceutical chemists to-day, and the justification for the continuance of the separate and lesser grade of registered druggist lapses. A measure of reform was necessary, and I am in the happy position of having had the two bodies concerned in this matter approach me with an agreed solution of the difficulty. The bodies I refer to are the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland, the statutory body controlling both chemists and druggists, and the Registered Druggists' Association, an organisation representative of druggists.
The agreement reached by those bodies is the basis of the Bill now  before the House. It provides that registered druggists will stop taking apprentices and this means that, in time, the grade of registered druggist will disappear. The Bill enables existing registered druggists to sit for examinations to be held at intervals during the next three years to secure qualification as “dispensing chemists and druggists.” Those who qualify as dispensing chemists and druggists will be permitted to compound medical prescriptions and, generally speaking, to carry on business in the same way as a pharmaceutical chemist. No additions to the ranks of dispensing chemists and druggists will be made after the three-year period I mentioned and, in time, this class also will disappear. Provision is included in the Bill for the protection of the title of “dispensing chemist and druggist” and generally for the application to the new grade of the provision of the Pharmacy Acts.
We have been careful in the Bill to preserve the rights of existing persons. The registered druggists who fail the examination or who do not sit for it will be allowed to carry on as at present. While no new apprentices will be taken by registered druggists, those persons who started their service before the Bill was introduced in the Dáil will be permitted to proceed to the examination for registered druggist in the usual manner. As a concession, the pharmaceutical Society intend to amend their regulations to provide that these apprentices will be permitted to transfer to become apprentices to pharmaceutical chemists without doing the preliminary examination for such apprenticeship which is usually required.
The pharmaceutical society are at present working out a scheme under which the training of pharmaceutical chemists would be improved, with better provision for theoretical instruction, together with graded examinations which will replace the present single qualifying test. This new scheme of training will not be brought in under this Bill but under regulations made by the pharmaceutical society with the consent of the Minister.  This new scheme, together with the reform effected by the present Bill, should result in the future standard of those qualifying in pharmacy being raised considerably. I recommend the Bill to the Seanad.
Professor Fearon Professor Fearon
Professor Fearon: This Bill is the result of an agreement between two very important and responsible bodies and I suppose it will not encounter much difficulty in its passage. I would, however, be much relieved in my mind if the Minister would clear up one point and that is, how this amalgamation will affect the ordinary consumer. Practically all ordinary consumers of medicines or drugs in some form or another will wonder how it is going to affect them. In introducing the Bill in the Dáil and again this evening, the Minister has explained that this is the result of an agreement between the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland and the Registered Druggists' Association, and they concur that the perpetuation of the lesser grade of registered druggist was undesirable. Here you have an old-established body apparently committing voluntary suicide and I wonder what we are going to get out of it. In his remarks on the Second Stage of the Bill in the Dáil, the Minister said: “As this Bill is the outcome of an agreement between the parties mainly concerned in its terms, and as all existing rights are being preserved, I recommend it with confidence to the Dáil for a Second Reading.” There is, however, a third party and we are the third party—the consumers.
When I got the Bill I read it, and it seemed all right. I also read the debate on it in the Dáil and it seemed all right. Then I thought about it a little and I came across a letter in the lively correspondence that characterises the Evening Mail on Saturday, 15th December. Here is the letter which is signed F.J.F.:—
“Now that the Pharmacy Bill, 1951, has passed the Committee and remaining stages, the public may rest assured that their interests as regards price will be jealously safeguarded by the Irish Drug Association, which looks after the  commercial side of the profession. Any member exceeding the modest charges laid down by the committee will be severely dealt with.”
I should like to know something about the association which jealously safeguards our interests and how it is going to deal severely with anybody who violates a particular code.
I might explain this a little bit more simply. At the present time we have wholesale druggists, and if I wish to purchase a chemical in quantity, say, ordinary table salt, I naturally go to a wholesale druggist and purchase it at the ordinary price of so many pence a lb. I am certain however, that if I went to purchase ordinary table salt in Grafton Street I would not purchase it for a few pence a lb. I would probably have to call it sodium chloride, and it would probably be put in a separate wrapper.
There is the possible danger—I wonder if the Minister will agree with me in this—that the effect of this amalgamation may mean that the future conjoined body will make us pay Grafton Street prices for Merrion Row products. I see no reason why they should not. One can defend that on the grounds that the chemist is a man who has undergone a long period of training. He is a responsible individual called upon to dispense certain things and to take certain precautions and he should be paid for doing these things.
While admitting all that, I have yet to see any indication of any code or tariff of the charges of even proprietary articles. Suppose that I prescribe 1 per cent. solution of zinc sulphate, an ordinary wash, that may be taken to some apothecary and the charge may be 5d. or 6d.; it may be taken to another more fashionable apothecary and the charge may be 1/5 or 1/6; it may go to some super-apothecary and the charge will be a lot more.
In accepting this Bill I think we ought to take steps to empower the Minister either by Order or through legislation to make it compulsory to have some form of tariff of dispensing charges. So far as I know there is no uniformity at present. Some people naturally think that if they pay 5/- for  something in one apothecary's and 9d. for the same article in another's they are getting much better value for the money. I do not think that that type of laxity in dispensing charges should be permitted. We have here an opportunity of tightening up the arrangements, though it may be difficult to devise a method whereby they can be tightened up. One cannot put a charge on ingredients because, strange as it may seem, some ingredients have come down considerably as a result of their being manufactured in much larger quantities. In some cases the cost of the ingredient is only a couple of pence and the real money goes to the man who produced the formula.
The Minister should bear in mind that as a result of this amalgamation it is quite possible that the future price level of the druggist will be the price level of the pharmacist. I think the price of drugs will be raised to the level of that of the pharmacist and I think that is an important point which should be given further consideration.
I think this Bill provides an opportunity of making an Order enforcing the labelling of products, proprietary articles, patent medicines and the like. Some are labelled as to their contents, but a great many are not. I think it is desirable that all patent medicines should carry a label specifying their contents. I do not know whether the Minister could extend the label that already applies to poisons. I think he should consider the matter. The amount of material that is sold largely on the strength of the advertisement that must be digested before the material has any effect is really far too big. Preparations are described as having powerful antibiotic values or being rich in vitamins. We are never told of what exactly the mixture consists, when it was compounded and what its potency is.
I would be reassured if the Minister would give this matter sympathetic consideration. I think it is desirable to regularise charges in order to ensure that the future ennobled and exalted druggist does not raise his prices to the limit of the pharmacist and equally desirable to label preparations.
Mr. Loughman Mr. Loughman
 Mr. Loughman: I do not think this Bill has reference to prices at all.
Professor Fearon Professor Fearon
Professor Fearon: Not at all.
Mr. Loughman Mr. Loughman
Mr. Loughman: Even if this Bill becomes law, it will make very little difference in the next 20 years. The Bill proposes to abolish the examination for registered druggists. The number of candidates who have sat for that examination in recent years is so small that it is hardly worth while holding an examination at all. The registered druggists made the proposal for its abolition to the pharmaceutical society in the first instance. We in that society felt that there was no longer any necessity for this particular group and we agreed to allow them to, as Senator Professor Fearon has suggested, commit suicide.
The prices charged by chemists are regulated by the drug association. Any increase in price has always had the sanction of the Prices Section of the Department of Industry and Commerce. I want to protest, therefore, against the people who have been making statements suggesting that chemists are cheating in the prices they charge. Reasonable people will admit that chemists throughout the country are not people of great wealth. In my opinion they have not even the status of a great number of the traders in the towns and villages throughout the country. They enjoy a reasonable living, I admit, but, in order to enjoy that living, they have to undergo greater trials in the beginning than any other vocation that exists by trading with the people.
As a chemist and a nominee of the pharmaceutical society in this House I want to refer now to a vicious attack that was made on us in Dáil Eireann by a particular Deputy. At the opening of his speech that Deputy said that this Bill was introduced to benefit a most formidable vested interest. In the next sentence he stated the Minister for Industry and Commerce was about to introduce a Bill to deal with restrictive trading and trading rings, and that the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland was the most vicious trade ring in the country. That was very  extravagant language to use in connection with over 1,000 traders and their families, who live by that trade. Throughout the whole country there are practically 2,000 qualified pharmacists. I think that description of them was most unfair.
The Deputy made a number of false allegations. Indeed practically every statement he made was false. It was certainly misleading. Even after the Minister had concluded the debate he managed to get past the Ceann Comhairle to make a further vicious suggestion that when this Bill was passed we had closed the loophole in the monopoly, and we would have examinations to further narrow the charmed circle, in connection with applications to enter the pharmaceutical society. In that way we would limit the number of people who could get examinations. We would not have a qualifying examination.
Because of those statements on the part of that Deputy people who did not know anything about the pharmaceutical society might conclude that such a system existed even at the present time. I have met many reasonable people who quite erroneously believed that we only permitted a certain number of candidates to qualify each year. That is quite untrue.
The examinations are conducted every three months, and I think representatives of the Department attend them. Everything connected with them is open to inspection. I know that, so far from discouraging or at least prohibiting a person who is capable of qualifying from qualifying, we do everything we can to put the students at their ease at our examinations. I wish that some people who are really concerned would attend some of these examinations and see how they are carried through.
I referred to the statements which were made on this Bill in the other House. I want to say that I believe that the privilege which is extended to statements made in the Houses of the Oireachtas and to their publication  in the Press is fully justified, but I still believe that there is abuse of that privilege, and, while I could excuse that abuse when practised by novices in our Parliament, I think that when a person who prides himself on a long parliamentary tradition, and on being an expert in the rules of debates, indulges in that practice, it is deplorable.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: I think we should leave the conduct of affairs in the other House out of our discussions here.
Mr. Loughman Mr. Loughman
Mr. Loughman: Very well, I will leave it at that. I have made my protest, and I think I have tried to make it clear that the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland is a body which has existed for 78 years in this country. In introducing this Bill, it is doing something which will be of benefit to the State. There are only 50 of these druggists in practice in shops at the present time, while there are over 1,000 pharmaceutical chemists. I rather think that these 50 druggists will continue in practice until, in the course of time, they die out. I rather think that the change that will occur in the sale of medicines or in the sale of medical products in this country by the enactment of this measure will be practically nil.
Dr. Ryan Dr. Ryan
Dr. Ryan: With regard to the few points that were raised by Senator Fearon, I think that Senator Loughman, more or less, gave an answer to them when he said that there are only 50 druggists left, and that, therefore, this Bill cannot make any great difference so far as the consumer is concerned. In fact, I think it is true to say that very few Senators have, at least in recent years, gone into a druggist's shop. They have gone to a chemist's shop to buy anything they needed. Therefore, I do not think that the interests of consumers will be very much affected. We will have, I think, as a result of this Bill, a higher standard amongst chemists in general. I take it that the wholesale druggists will remain, because they are the trade organisation which supplies the chemists. I do not think that the passing of this Bill will alter  their status or standing. I do not know of any way in which we could prescribe charges for dispensing by pharmaceutical chemists. I think that these pharmaceutical chemists themselves usually have some agreement about what the charges are to be.
There was another point raised by Senator Fearon in which I am very much more interested, and that is with regard to the labelling of patent medicines. Under the Health Act, which we passed in 1947, there was a part dealing with patent medicines. I was very keen on that. That Bill gave power to compel those who make up proprietary preparations to label the contents and the price. A person could then judge more or less for himself whether he was getting good value or not. A person could also make up his mind as to whether what is claimed for some of these patent medicines, which are supposed to cure practically anything, could be true or not. I hope we may be able to return to that part of the 1947 Act and see if we can proceed with the powers that are in the section dealing with patent medicines.
The only other matter is the protest that was made by Senator Loughman against statements made about overcharging. If I were the Senator I would not bother too much about that. It is one of the freedoms we enjoy in this country that we can blame everybody for overcharging. It is no harm, I think, to have freedom of that kind.
Question put and agreed to.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: When is it proposed to take the next stage of the Bill?
Dr. Ryan Dr. Ryan
Dr. Ryan: If there is no objection, I would like to get all stages to-night.
Agreed, that the remaining stages be taken now.
Bill passed through Committee without amendment, reported, received for final consideration and passed.
Ordered: that the Bill be returned to the Dáil.
Seanad Éireann 40 Pharmacy Bill, 1951—Second and Subsequent Stages.