As Deputy O'Higgins has already said on behalf of the Fine Gael Party, we welcome this Bill. One might say, en passant, that the chemists are entitled to a new Act, as they appear to be operating under the very old Act of 1875 which has been much amended. The Minister referred to a further amendment in 1951. I am not quite clear as to what that amendment was. Actually, as I read this Bill it appears to be an attempt to legalise and codify existing regulations; in other words, to set up the pharmaceutical chemist as a profession.
That seems to be desirable enough in itself but the puzzling thing about this Bill to me is that practically all the sections in it are already operative. It is simply making it clear to the public and the chemists themselves what their obligations are. But in the main, practically all the sections one looks through and the obligations they set out existed already, only perhaps the chemists themselves were not fully aware of it, and I am sure the general public were not aware of it either.
Section 2 puts the ordinary medical practitioner out of the line of practising as a pharmaceutical chemist and keeping a shop open for prescribing medicines or compounding drugs or selling poisons. As the Minister rightly said, the majority of medical practitioners, with the exception of licentiates of the Apothecaries Hall, had no interest, good, bad or indifferent in that profession. They were fully occupied in their own sphere in which they were practising and from which they were making a living. That section takes everyone out except licentiates of the Apothecaries Hall, the dispensing chemists and the pharmaceutical chemists.
Then we go further in the Bill to the part where the L.A.H. is taken out as a practising chemist and is no longer allowed to compound or keep open shop for the sale of medicines, as I read it, subject to the proviso that he is already registered as such or has commenced as a student. But as against that, if any other subsequent L.A.H. comes on the scene and qualifies as such and applies for registration, he is still entitled to carry on. That rather puzzles me. The only reason I can see for it is to ensure that all pharmaceutical chemists will be registered as such and registered members of the Society. I am not at all in disagreement with that. I think it is eminently desirable but it still seems a rather long way to go after 80 or 90 years to cover these points which are, in effect, very small points really.
Then we come to the question of reciprocity. That seems to be an important item in the Bill in that it is a complete innovation. Again, I wonder. There is a Pharmaceutical College in this country and I am aware that there are quite a considerable number of overseas students in that college. I presume they go through the ordinary courses. I know there are Malayans and Ghanaians and Nigerians and other students. When they qualified prior to this, were they entitled then to the degrees they hold and to practise in their own country, or are they only to be allowed to do so now by virtue of this reciprocity which is being introduced ?
It also raises the point that if we are to allow reciprocity, we may have quite an influx of chemists into this country. It is a question which perhaps the Minister might be able to clarify. No doubt, he has had consultation as to whether this profession is overcrowded or not. I am inclined to think it is. I am inclined to the view that in recent years there has been an increased demand for the products of chemists' shops, an increase in the demand for cosmetics and drugs and there is quite a sizeable number of chemists' shops in practically every small town in Ireland now and two or three in the larger-sized villages.
As against that, the Minister could answer that the registration in return would leave the control completely in the hands of the Society and as such, they could regulate it, but they would find it difficult all the same if they set up as an examining or tutorial body giving diplomas and degrees to pharmaceutical chemists and members of the Society. Subsequently if those practised elsewhere and applied to the Society for registration under a reciprocal arrangement so that they could practise elsewhere, the Pharmaceutical Society would find it very difficult to refuse them.
The only reason I raise this point is that in turn the particular country concerned might say: "We are giving reciprocity and we want full reciprocity in return", and we might get a lot of chemists into the country. I see Deputy Brady looking quite anxious at the idea of the number of chemists who may come in to the very lucrative business he conducts in Dublin.
There are other points, too. I have heard rumours that the Pharmaceutical Society and the profession of pharmacy are to be recognised as a Faculty and I have also heard rumours that it is also to become a Faculty in University College, Dublin. I wonder is that true. I wonder if the Minister has any information on that point and if such is the case, if it is to come under the Governing Body of the university as an independent Faculty with its own Dean, which no doubt it is entitled to have, would it not have been better to embody it in this Bill? Of course I may be wrong on that point. It may be that the relevant section leaves it open for the Pharmaceutical Society to do that themselves. It will be under Section 4 and Section 7. It is a matter which the Minister might be kind enough to clarify so that they may know exactly what the position is.
Then one comes back again to the question of doctors compounding medicines. Admittedly, the Bill stands by the word "sale". This applies to the sale of drugs and the compounding of drugs but it is specifically set out in the Minister's statement and in the Bill itself that the only people who may compound prescriptions and drugs will be licentiates of the Apothecaries Hall and pharmaceutical chemists.
Now, there are many establishments in this country in which there are already qualified medical practitioners compounding prescriptions. In all the health clinics, which were formerly known as dispensaries, doctors compound medicines regularly. I am raising the point—I may be entirely wrong in this—only for clarification purposes. It is necessary to ensure that we are not passing a Bill which makes it illegal for medical practitioners in a particular district, in an isolated area, where there may not be a chemist's shop for ten or 15 miles—which could happen in the West of Ireland—to compound medicines for his patients. Perhaps the Minister would look into that? If I am wrong, well and good; I am quite happy on the point.
There is another point I want to raise. If pharmaceutical chemists are to be given professional status, as I believe they are, the point has been put to me by some members of the profession that they would be entitled to employment for the purpose of compounding medicines even under semi-State concerns, such as local authorities, where that is possible. There is no provision in the Bill to suggest that. I do not know if it is a matter that could actually be embodied in the Bill. In these larger dispensaries, or, to give them their correct name, health clinics, in towns, say, of a population of over 2,000, there is a sizeable turnover of drugs and appliances generally. Therefore, it would be economical for the State to employ pharmacists. It would be economical because of the fact that the pharmaceutical chemist would have the knowledge and skill to order the correct drugs, to order them most economically and to use them to the greatest advantage, naturally on the prescription of the medical officer.
In many places in Ireland now, even in the smaller country towns with populations of around 500 or 600, there are pharmaceutical chemists available. If they are to be registered in order to practise and if they are forced to pay a registration fee, as we are enacting in this legislation, and become members of their own Society, they are entitled to the full benefits of their profession in their own country.
Perhaps the Minister would look into that? Perhaps he might be able to embody in the Bill on Committee Stage something which will more or less legalise their position to the extent that they may be happy in the assurance that they will get further employment here. This employment will not only benefit themselves but will benefit the people for whom they will be prescribing. Very occasionally, I have done dispensary work myself. I once did dispensary duty in a dispensary in a town with a population of 5,000 or 6,000. I was on duty for three or four months and, when the stock of drugs ran down, I found I had not the time, the knowledge or the skill to restock that dispensary so that I could not really give the best service possible to the people. The State would considerably benefit by what I suggest, so perhaps the Minister would consider the point ?
I have been asked to raise another point. I think the only section of the controversial Health Acts, which are now being revised, that the chemists opted into was the mother and child scheme. I do not think they are allowed any dispensing fees whatever for that purpose. Again, if they are to be registered as professional, it seems they are entitled to some recognition as such and that they should be entitled to charge a dispensing fee. I see the Minister is smiling, because he is going to get up and tell me they have a dispensing fee. I believe they have a small dispensing fee but it is inadequate to cover them, to normalise their ordinary profits on drug sales. The percentage of profits on drug sales is high, in some cases as high as 50 per cent.
In case Deputies think that chemists are mulcting the public and making a great deal of money as a result of being able to charge these high prices, I think I should say it is necessary for them to do so. There is tremendous wastage in this sale of drugs, particularly for chemists practising in the more isolated areas rather than in Dublin. They very often get a prescription from a doctor interested in a particular product. Perhaps that product is not as successful as the doctor has been led to believe. The chemist may have laid in a considerable stock. I forget what the professional term is, but a lot of that stock is left on his hands and he is unable to dispose of it. Against that, he requires a high percentage of profit.
I may not have got the relations between the mother and child service and the dispensing chemist quite accurately. I think they are entitled to some small dispensing fee, but they do not get anything like the profit to which their services would entitle them. In view of the fact that conditions are being imposed on them, which we on this side of the House are quite satisfied to accept, they are entitled to all the privileges accruing from the fact that there is a certain amount of Ministerial control and that they are registered.
The figures the Minister gave of 1,100 who are members of the Society and 1,500 who are not members should clearly indicate that, in the interests of this profession, compulsory registration is desirable. I wish the Minister luck with the Bill. I think he could have gone a lot further with it, or at least could have given us a clearer explanation of the future of the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland, so far as teaching and the principles it will follow are concerned.