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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 22 Feb 1962

Vol. 193 No. 4

Pharmacy Bill, 1961—Second Stage.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. The Bill will codify, and in some respects amend, parts of the present enactments relating to pharmacy. Section 2, which will specify the classes of persons who may keep open shop for the dispensing and compounding of medical prescriptions and the sale of poisons expresses again, with but a few changes, the present law on the matter, the basis of which is the Pharmacy Act (Ireland) 1875. I should explain that, before 1875, a legal monopoly in keeping open shop for the sale by retail of medicines was vested in licensed apothecaries. There were comparatively few of these and great inconveniences thereby arose to the public in many parts of the country. The object of the 1875 Act, as expressed in its preamble, was "to enable persons who, although they do not desire to practise the art and mystery of an apothecary, desire and are qualified to open shop for the retailing, dispensing and compounding of poisons and medical prescriptions, to keep open shop for the purposes aforesaid". Under this Act, the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland was established and the pharmaceutical chemist as known to-day was created.

The 1875 Act was amended and extended in 1890, particularly by the establishment of a grade of registered druggist, qualified to deal in poisons but not in the compounding of medical prescriptions. A further amending Act in 1951 visualised the eventual disappearance of this grade of registered druggist but established a further interim grade known as "dispensing chemist and druggist" to which such druggists as passed a special examination in dispensing were admitted. The tangled provisions of all these existing Acts are to be replaced by Section 2 of the Bill, and, in addition, the section will make two changes in the present law.

The first of these relates to medical practitioners who are neither pharmaceutical chemists nor licentiates of the Apothecaries Hall. Under Section 30 of the Act of 1875, such a medical practitioner, if he had passed an examination in pharmacy to obtain his medical diploma, has the right, equally with apothecaries and pharmaceutical chemists, to keep open shop for the sale of poisons and the dispensing and compounding of medical prescriptions. There seems to have been considerable doubt, however, as to what an examination in pharmacy entailed. It has been generally held that medical practitioners who were not apothecaries did not, in fact, take such an examination in the course of their studies and, because of that, the right to keep open shop never became a reality for them. Speaking as a layman, I must say that it does not seem to me likely that the ordinary medical practitioner could, in the course of his much wider course of studies directed to a different end, be trained to anything like the same extent as a full-time pharmaceutical chemist in the techniques and skills required for the efficient practice of pharmacy.

All things considered, therefore, there does not seem to be any good case for retaining this special provision. Under the terms of Section 2, I am proposing that it should be removed; but in order to ensure against the deprivation of any legal rights which existing medical practitioners might, in fact, feel that they have, it is provided under the section that any medical practitioner who became qualified or who began his medical studies before the commencement of the Act, and who, in order to obtain his qualifying degree or diploma, has passed or passes an examination in pharmacy, will have the right to keep open shop for the sale of poisons and the dispensing and compounding of medical prescriptions.

The other change clarifies the position of limited liability companies in the retail pharmacy business. These companies may continue in the business; but only on the basis that each shop or pharmaceutical department will be managed by a pharmaceutical chemist or other authorised person, as defined, in the wholetime employment of the company.

Section 3 of the Bill will provide for a more adequate measure of protection for the titles under which persons legally engaging in pharmaceutical business normally operate; the titles or descriptions under which they conduct their shops or business will also be afforded the full protection they require. This, I think, is both reasonable and necessary; for if, on the one hand, we provide that pharmaceutical chemists and allied classes must surrender certain liberties in subjecting themselves to a fairly stringent code of ethical behaviour; if the State, for the protection of the public, compels pharmaceutical chemists and other persons concerned in the compounding, dispensing or sale of medicines, drugs or poisons to be registered in appropriate categories and to pay fees for such registration; if it imposes on such persons certain onerous obligations; and if we expect pharmacists through their Society to provide for the training and examination of candidates for examination; then, in my view, we must ensure that their exclusive right to engage in pharmaceutical business is adequately protected.

Section 4 re-enacts in an expanded and more explicit form a provision in the 1875 Act which empowered the Pharmaceutical Society to make regulations for the examination of persons wishing to become registered as pharmaceutical chemists. This power to hold examinations has hitherto been taken as covering all the normal matters which go with the holding of examinations—such matters as the organisation and conduct of courses of training prior to examination, the appointment of lecturers and teachers in connection with the courses, and the granting of certificates to persons who take the courses and pass the examinations. While this may be a reasonable assumption, I think it is better, as the opportunity has presented itself, to put the matter beyond doubt by specifically providing for all these matters.

We come now to a number of miscellaneous provisions which, unlike those in Sections 2, 3 and 4, are not— or are not altogether—in the nature of codification of the existing law, but make a number of rather important changes.

Section 5 will give the Pharmaceutical Society power to register pharmaceutical chemists trained and qualified outside the State. This will empower the Society to make arrangements with pharmaceutical societies in other countries for the reciprocal registration of properly qualified pharmacists. A similar right already exists in the case of medical practitioners, dentists, nurses, and opticians. The reason why it does not exist in the case of pharmaceutical chemists is largely a matter of history. The lack of this power has caused difficulty from time to time where licentiates of the Pharmaceutical Society here who go abroad are refused registration, and consequently are debarred from practice as pharmaceutical chemists, on the grounds that pharmaceutical chemists qualified in those countries coming to Ireland are not entitled to registration and practice here. The recognition of any foreign pharmaceutical qualifications under reciprocal arrangements would be in accordance with regulations to be approved by the Minister. In this way, uniform standards would be maintained in the pharmaceutical profession here and no danger would arise of the dilution of the profession by inadequately trained practitioners from abroad.

Section 6 contains a further innovation—this time in relation to the Society's power to charge fees. To enable its significance to be appreciated I should first of all explain that there is a distinction between licentiates of the Society and members of it. A person becomes a licentiate of the Society when he has passed the Society's final examinations and paid the requisite registration fee; hereafter, he remains a lifelong licentiate, with the right to practise, without payment of any further fee. A member of the Society, on the other hand, pays an annual membership fee and, as a member, becomes entitled to certain rights—particularly in relation to the domestic government of the Society—in addition to those which he has as a licentiate. Under the Act of 1875, the Society has power to charge certain fees—for examination, licence and registration—but only members of the Society are obliged to pay annual subscriptions. The existing powers will be re-enacted under Section 6; but, in addition, a new provision is included, to allow the Society to charge an annual fee for the retention on the Registers of the Society of the names of persons who, for example, are licentiates, but not members, of the Society.

At present, I understand, there are about 1,100 pharmacists who are members of the Society and these pay an annual fee of 4 guineas. A further 1,500 pharmaceutical chemists have not chosen to put their names forward for membership and are not therefore obliged to pay this annual fee. The Society, however, accepted responsibility, not merely for granting diplomas and maintaining registers of authorised and qualified persons, but also for regulating the training of candidates for diplomas, laying down appropriate courses of study and providing these for pharmaceutical students. In latter years the increasing expense of retaining the requisite academic staff has made it impossible to keep the courses on a self-supporting basis; so they have been provided only at a substantial cost to the Society and its members. These courses are intended primarily to ensure that only adequately qualified persons will be engaged in the compounding and dispensing of medical prescriptions. But by providing them and insisting that they must be followed by intending pharmacists, the Society operates to maintain the status of the pharmaceutical profession as a whole; and indeed to safeguard the livelihood of every individual practising pharmacist. It would be unfair, therefore, to continue the existing situation; for in it the whole of the financial burden involved in such praiseworthy activities falls only on those licentiates in pharmacy who are sufficiently interested in the prestige and development of their calling as to become members of the Society. In my view equity demands that the cost of maintaining the status and competency of their calling should be borne by the general body of the licentiates of the Society; and that, as this burden is a continuing one, every person who is anxious to continue in the appropriate register of authorised persons should pay an annual renewal fee in respect of each registration. There is nothing novel in this requirement. It is imposed on the members of many professions and trades. Dentists, for example, pay an annual registration fee; so do solicitors, registered opticians, registered patent agents and others in similar categories where the practice of a profession, business or calling is reserved to persons holding specified diplomas or qualifications. Subject to approval by the Minister for Health subsection (3) of Section 6 of the Bill will accordingly make provision for levying such fees as may be necessary.

Section 7 of the Bill will provide that the Pharmaceutical Society will henceforth be able to confer higher titles on persons registered by it. This is in accordance with a similar right which the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain possesses.

In Section 8, it is proposed to give statutory effect to an agreement which has been reached between the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland and the Apothecaries Hall on the question of the registration of the Hall's licentiates as pharmaceutical chemists. The present legal position is that, under Section 22 of the Pharmacy Act of 1875, licentiates of the Hall, upon application and payment of the appropriate fee, become entitled to such registration. Now, whatever may have been the reasons for this arrangement at a time when the practice of pharmacy was still in its infancy and the apothecary had, for close on a century, held the field as the sole statutory holder of the right to carry on retail trade in medicines, and whatever may have been the force of the argument in favour of its retention before the time when the training of pharmaceutical chemists became the well-considered discipline that it is today, there appears to be general agreement that there is no need for its retention now. The Society and the Apothecaries Hall discussed the whole question in detail and the Hall has agreed upon the cessation of the right —on the clear understanding, however, that the entitlement of its licentiates to keep open shop for the sale of poisons and the dispensing and compounding of medical prescriptions would remain unimpaired. This agreement will be given effect to by Section 8.

It will be provided in the section, by way of a saving clause, that any existing licentiate of the Apothecaries Hall who has not yet applied for registration as a pharmaceutical chemist may do so before the end of 1963; students of the Hall who have already registered, or will have registered before the end of the present year will likewise, in due course, be given the opportunity to become registered as pharamaceutical chemists. In this way, the rights of existing licentiates and of persons who registered with the Hall in good faith will be preserved.

Section 9 makes a minor change by providing an alternative of a fine for the present penalty of imprisonment for falsification of a register kept by the Society.

Section 10 provides for consequential repeals of sundry provisions of the early Acts and Section 11 for the construction, collective citation and commencement of the Act.

I recommend the Bill to the House for Second Reading.

The Bill will be accepted by our side of the House. I am glad to learn that a measure of agreement in relation to the terms of the Bill has been reached between the Apothecaries Hall and the Pharmaceutical Society.

Under Section 4, there is now a very great extension envisaged in the educational responsibilities of the Pharmaceutical Council. The Council is now given an ethical and an educational control comparable with that of a Medical Registration Council in importance. It would therefore seem desirable—perhaps not in this Bill but at some stage soon—that the constitution of the Council should receive examination. At the moment, the Council is largely composed of those interested in the retail side of pharmacy.

Pharmacy now, and increasingly in the future, will be involved not only in industry but in research, in public health and on the educational side. It would appear desirable that qualification for membership of the Council will require examination.

I am told that, at the moment, any member of the Pharmaceutical Society who is engaged in teaching is disqualified from membership of the Council. That appears an anomaly. With the great increase envisaged in the responsibility of the Council, it would seem desirable that a change should be made.

I notice that there is provision for the charging of fees which, presumably, will lead to a revenue to be devoted to educational purposes. I should like to raise the question of the State's responsibility in this matter. It appears desirable that, if a school of pharmacy is to be encouraged to grow, the State would have some responsibility to make a contribution towards that education and research. It does not appear desirable that the only way in which research and education can take place is by a poll tax on those who are registered— particularly when I see that the fees are not specified but will eventually emerge in regulations. It appears not a completely desirable provision.

Debate adjourned.