Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 11 Apr 1962

Vol. 55 No. 6

Pharmacy Bill, 1961—Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".

Under this Bill it is proposed to assemble in a convenient and modern form certain provisions relating to the control of pharmacy which are at present dispersed through various earlier enactments and to make additions to the body of law on this subject which experience has shown to be necessary.

The law on the control of the practice of pharmacy may be said to have originated in an Act of the year 1791 which confined the sale by retail of medicines to licensed apothecaries. By the third quarter of the nineteenth century, the exercise of this monopoly had resulted in an insufficiency of authorised dealers in poisons and medical prescriptions, to the great inconvenience of the public.

Therefore, by an Act of 1875, a new category of persons was permitted to share the monopoly. These persons are rather quaintly described in the preamble of the Act as "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," and the title given to them by the new statute was "pharmaceutical chemist". This Act—the Pharmacy (Ireland) Act, 1875— specified that only these, together with the licensed apothecaries and other medical practitioners who had passed an examination in pharmacy, could keep open shop for the sale of poisons or the dispensing or compounding of medical prescriptions. The Act also provided for the establishment of the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland and since that time the general government and control of pharmacy has been carried out under the aegis of that body and through its Council, which is elected by those pharmaceutical chemists who, by reason of their payment of an annual fee, are members of the Society.

By later Acts, further categories of persons were authorised to keep open shop. The grade of registered druggist, authorised to sell poisons but not dispense medical prescriptions, was created in 1890 and in 1951 a further grade of dispensing chemist and druggist, limited as respects entry to existing druggists and created to further the eventual disappearance of the latter, was given the same rights in respect of keeping open shop as the pharmaceutical chemists themselves.

I should now like to describe briefly how the present Bill will affect these earlier Acts.

Section 2 of the Bill re-states the law on the keeping of open shop for the dispensing and compounding of medical prescriptions and the sale of poisons, with some minor changes. Those who are at present entitled to keep open shop for these purposes will continue to be so entitled. I have already mentioned that this group, in addition to the licensed apothecaries, includes other medical practitioners who "in order to obtain their qualifying diploma have passed an examination in pharmacy." In fact, such entitlement to keep open shop as medical practitioners, other than licensed apothecaries, may have had has long since become a dead letter and I am advised that if I were to drop them altogether from the list of qualified persons, I should not be doing an injustice. However, in order to guard against the possibility of interfering with any right, however nebulous it might be, I have decided that the existing provisions in regard to medical practitioners, as such, should be continued for all those at present qualified, for those who have already embarked on their medical courses and for any who may do so prior to the commencement of the section.

Section 2 also contains provisions whereby a pharmacy business can be carried on by the representatives of a pharmacist who dies or becomes bankrupt or of unsound mind. It is only in the case of a death that this can be done at present.

Specific provision is included in Section 2 on the carrying on of a pharmacy business by a corporate body. While there is no explicit reference to this in the present pharmacy law, registered companies have become an important feature of modern business and it is considered desirable to specify clearly the conditions for their participation in retail pharmacy. The section will require that a corporate body which "keeps open shop" must employ a full time qualified manager who is not carrying on business on his own account or for anyone else.

In Section 3 of the Bill provision is made for the protection of the titles, emblems and descriptions which are commonly used by pharmaceutical chemists and others authorised to keep open shop for the purposes specified in the Bill.

Section 4 deals with the making by the Council of the Society of regulations dealing with its courses of training and with the examinations for persons aspiring to become registered. I might mention here that there has recently taken place a very important change in the method whereby persons are trained to become pharmaceutical chemists. Until quite recently the entire course was carried out by the Pharmaceutical Society. Now, however, the academic course is taken partly in University College, Dublin, and partly in the Society's own College. In these circumstances it was considered desirable to re-state the Society's functions in relation to this matter of pharmaceutical education.

Section 4 therefore provides that the Society may make regulations dealing with the courses of training and examinations to be taken by candidates for registration in any of the registers maintained by the Society. These regulations may provide for the approval of lecturers and for the conditions of admission to examinations. They may also provide for the recognition by the Council of the course of study and training and of the examinations of outside bodies. The new provisions will, I think, give a flexibility in the law on these matters which is desirable in view of the Society's co-operation with the University in the training of pharmaceutical students.

Under Section 5 the Council of the Pharmaceutical Society will have power, in accordance with regulations, to register as pharmaceutical chemists such persons as can satisfy the Council that they have gained satisfactory qualifications or experience abroad. The lack of some provision such as this has in the past proved an obstacle to the recognition of Irish pharmacists abroad. In certain instances when Irish pharmacists wished to have their qualifications recognised in other countries, it was found that this could not be done as no power existed whereby the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland could offer reciprocal recognition to pharmacists trained abroad.

Section 6 provides for the charging of fees by the Society. The section re-states the rights of the Society to levy fees for examinations, courses of training and registration and to collect annual fees from those on the register who choose to be members of the Society and thus to participate in its governance. The section also contains a new provision for the levying by the Society of annual retention fees on persons other than members who are on any of its registers. I think that I should explain this provision and the reasons for it in some detail.

Pharmacists as a body enjoy a valuable monopoly in the conduct of their business. For the protection of this, it is necessary that the Pharmaceutical Society should continue to exercise its important functions of training pharmaceutical chemists, and of maintaining supervision over the observance of the pharmacy code. It is in the interests of all pharmacists—and particularly those keeping open shop—that the Society's activities should be enable to proceed without being hindered by a severe shortage of funds. In fact, the Society is now short of financial resources and has been operating on a deficit for a number of years. It relies for its income on examination fees, fees for courses, registration fees and the membership fees to which I have referred. There are at present some 2,600 persons registered as pharmaceutical chemists, but of those only about 1,100 have chosen to pay the annual fees entitling them to membership of the Pharmaceutical Society. Thus, the financial burden of the Society's activities, in so far as this is defrayed by membership fees, is borne by persons who constitute less than half those eligible for membership. In the circumstances, I consider it reasonable that provision should now be made for the payment of reasonable annual retention fees by all pharmacists who desire to remain on the register. There is nothing novel in this. At present, dentists and opticians pay quite substantial annual retention fees and so also do solicitors and patent agents.

It was pointed out to me in the course of the debates in Dáil Éireann on these provisions that the monopolistic benefits enjoyed by pharmacists who keep open shop are considerably more valuable than those enjoyed by other pharmacists, such as those employed in hospitals or in industry. I am satisfied that there is some force in this contention and it has accordingly been provided, by an amendment made in the Dáil, that different fees may be charged on pharmacists keeping open shop and on those engaged otherwise in pharmacy.

The amount of the fees for retention on the register and of other fees will be subject to the consent of the Minister. This should be sufficient to ensure that the fees are not fixed at such a level as would impose undue hardship.

Section 7 provides for the conferring by the Society of the title of Fellow of the Society, or a similar title, on a person registered with the Society. This, I think, is a very desirable innovation, in view of the developments of pharmacy in recent years, the improved arrangements for the training of pharmaceutical chemists and the desirability of encouraging research in the field of pharmacy.

Section 8 provides for the cessation, after the dates laid down, of the existing rights of licentiates of the Apothecaries Hall to become registered as pharmaceutical chemists. This right was given to licentiates of the Apothecaries Hall by the 1875 Act. The cessation of this right in accordance with the provisions in Section 8 is based— and I want to emphasise this—on an agreement between the Apothecaries Hall and the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland. Existing licentiates of the Hall who have not yet registered as pharmaceutical chemists will have until the 31st December, 1963, to do so. Students registered with the Apothecaries Hall before the end of this year will be entitled to register as pharmaceutical chemists until the 31st December, 1970. This will allow them the full period which is normally required for the completion of their medical studies and a short additional period. The cessation of the right to registration as pharmaceutical chemist will not affect in any way the entitlement of licentiates of the Apothecaries Hall to keep open shop for the dispensing and compounding of medical prescriptions or for the sale of poisons.

I think I should emphasise that two separate things are involved here: the right to be on the Register which is maintained by the Pharmaceutical Society and the right to keep open shop. So far as the right to keep open shop is concerned, the existing licentiates of the Apothecaries Hall will not be affected in any way whasoever.

Section 9 of the Bill makes good an omission in a section of the principal Act which relates to penalties for false representations in order to secure registration. It will provide for the imposition of a fine in such cases as an alternative to the term of imprisonment which is already provided for in the section.

Section 10 provides for the repeal of the sundry provisions in the old Acts which are replaced in other sections of the Bill. It also provides for the repeal of an existing provision which requires the Pharmaceutical Society to supply inspectors of weights and measures with copies of its registers. This is expensive and inconvenient from the Society's point of view and it has proved in recent years to be unnecessary.

Section 11 deals with the short title, the collective citation and the commencement of the Act. It is intended that the various provisions of the Bill will be brought into operation at the earliest convenient dates after its enactment.

On the whole this is a good Bill, and it was distinctly improved during its passage through the Dáil. Indeed, by amendments which the Minister introduced in the Dáil he has robbed me of what I hoped would be a number of cogent points. This is an important Bill because it represents the emergence of the pharmaceutical chemist as a member of a profession in the modern mould.

There are four main topics which arise under this Bill: the keeping of open shop; the restriction of title; the question of education and examinations; and the question of the financing of the Pharmaceutical Society. As the Minister mentioned, there are at present on the register of the Pharmaceutical Society more than 2,600 persons, and only about 1,100 persons are members of the Pharmaceutical Society. If the register becomes, as a result of this Bill, what one might term a clean register, it will not contain anything like 2,600 persons, but something of the order of 1,800 persons. We are, in fact, legislating for 1,800 persons or thereabouts, who actually practise pharmacy, and it is with them and the manner in which they do their business that the Bill is concerned.

In regard to the keeping of open shop, this is a term which I find neither informative nor instructive. I take it that it has been maintained in order to preserve various judicial determinations as to the keeping of open shop and circumstances concerned with it. The provisions in the Bill in regard to open shop show a distinct improvement and there are only a few minor points which I should like to raise in this connection.

I wonder if the phrase which is being used in regard to authorised persons—"personally manage"—is the best phrase that could be used. The practice in pharmacy at the moment is that when an authorised person is in charge of a pharmacy he is the person who actually supervises the compounding or dispensing which is done by the pharmaceutical assistant or by an apprentice in the shop. I understand that the practice in pharmacy is that the actual bottles used are checked, the weighings are checked, and the compounding is checked.

That is the position at present, and when the Minister is introducing a Bill to consolidate the law he should give statutory effect to what is the practice among good pharmacists. I doubt, however, that the phrase "personally manage" is quite appropriate. I do not know if the phrase has been judicially determined in regard to other legislation but there seems to be a connotation in the word "manage" that might involve merely the laying out of a procedure and an over-all check or a spot check to ensure that such procedure was carried out. I think what is actually done at present, and indeed what we all agree should be done, could be better described by using a term such as "personal supervision" rather than "personal management". I do not think the Council of the Pharmaceutical Society or those in pharmacy practice would object to a statutory provision being made in this regard because, as I say, those who carry out their business in a proper manner at the moment are carrying it out in this way.

I think this should be done in the Bill. It might be said that it could be done by regulation but we might run into difficulties there if the Council of the Pharmaceutical Society sought to impose something by regulation which was stricter than what was imposed in a section of the Bill.

I would say this phrase should be used in regard to compounding and dispensing. As regards the sale of drugs across the counter I think here the words "personally managed" might be maintained. After all, it would be unreasonable to look for personal supervision every time a bottle of iodine is sold across the counter by retail. In regard to compounding and dispensing that is something which would need a little thought.

In regard to the restriction of title, subsections (4) and (5) of Section 3 were well amended when the Bill was going through the Dáil. I think the case made by the analytical chemists has been very deftly and fully dealt with by the Minister's amendment which he brought in on that occasion.

There is just a point in regard to the position under the earlier subsections of Section 3, subsections (1), (2) and (3), which have regard to the taking of the title of pharmaceutical chemist. We are not dealing now with the question of operating a business but merely with the question of taking the title of pharmaceutical chemist. I wonder if here the legislation is not a little restrictive. I wonder if it would not be better if the restriction on the use of the title of pharmaceutical chemist related only to the use of the title in connection with business or employment.

The position is that many persons who were not in employment as pharmaceutical chemists or were not in business as pharmaceutical chemists might on a private occasion describe themselves as pharmaceutical chemists. I do not want to be unreasonable about this minor point. I could take the case where a person described himself in a reply to a simple inquiry as a pharmaceutical chemist though he was no longer on the register. He might be a person who is a visitor to this country and might describe himself as a pharmaceutical chemist. I am not at all sure what his position would be under subsection (1) of Section 3.

It may be thought that we would never get prosecutions under this section but we read on the paper yesterday where a person was prosecuted for the sale of intoxicating liquor on the grounds that liqueur chocolates were sold on the premises. If our prosecutors start a prosecution against liqueur chocolates on the ground that they involve the sale of intoxicating liquor, I think it is our duty in the House, even if we think such prosecutions to be folly, to remove from our eager prosecutors the occasion of such folly. That is the reason why I raise this point as regards the question of the restriction of title.

With regard to the very important question of education and of examination here we have what will be in the future the most important development under the Bill. I welcome very much the new dispensation in regard to the education of pharmaceutical chemists. I think here we have the true emergence of pharmaceutical chemists as professional people in that their education is now an integration of the academic and the professional.

I understand that both the Pharmaceutical Society and University College, Dublin, are pleased with the arrangements and that the arrangements are working well. Indeed, I think we all welcome this particular development.

In regard to the question of the recognition of foreign qualifications, the Minister in his opening speech mentioned that this was a desirable thing so that we in turn could have recognition abroad, but when we are discussing this particular point we should not forget that it is not only the fact that we do not recognise other people that will be a stumbling block to recognition by other countries. The position is that unless we continue to raise the standards of pharmaceutical education as they have been raised by the Pharmaceutical Society we will find ourselves in great difficulty from the point of view of securing recognition.

When we talk of recognition we must always relate that to the position under the European Economic Community. The position is that under the rules which have been laid down by the Commission under the Treaty of Rome pharmacists must be either harmonised or mutually recognised by the end of 1967. I think it will need very good work in order to get pharmacy training in this country to a European standard by the end of 1967.

On this question of education, I might say it is very easy to make a transition from the subject of pharmacy education to the subject of the financing of the Pharmaceutical Society. The position is that the Pharmaceutical Society has been running at a deficit largely because of the burden it has been carrying in relation to the education of pharmaceutical chemists.

The position is that the Pharmaceutical Society has had to spend capital sums of the order of £40,000 in order to equip themselves with laboratories in order to maintain a modern standard of pharmaceutical education. The present position of the Pharmaceutical Society is that it has a budget of £9,000 a year and are running at a deficit of £2,000. Of the £9,000 about £5,000 appears to be spent on education judging by the balance sheet in their present calendar.

There is a point I should like to raise here. The point has already been urged on the Minister before. It seems that in this very important question the State should be willing to do something to assist. I understand the reluctance of the Minister and the even greater reluctance of the Minister for Finance to make a contribution towards the College of Pharmacy. In particular, I can understand his reluctance to make a contribution, which would become a recurring contribution, to the College of Pharmacy. I would ask the Minister to consider one point and perhaps bring it to the attention of his colleague, the Minister for Finance. The College of Pharmacy has spent £40,000 and is now running at a deficit of £2,000 a year. I would urge the Minister to ask the Minister for Finance to make a once for all contribution of £40,000 to the College of Pharmacy. The College of Pharmacy was obliged to realise its own investments in order to spend this money.

Here is something which the Government could do and which would not tie them to recurring expenditure in the years ahead if they were to make a non-recurring capital grant for these laboratories. I have examined the question of the amount of space in the laboratories and I am quite satisfied that the money was well spent. In this way he would then be able to put the Pharmaceutical Society into a position not merely to reach a precarious balance but to move on further and bring about further improvements in their standards which would enable them to make our pharmaceutical training comparable to that of the rest of Europe.

On the question of financing, there is no doubt that some of the deficit of £2,000 will be met by the provision of retention fees but I doubt if even all of the £2,000 will be met by it. If it is, it will only barely cover the amount. On the question of retention fees, there is just one point I should like to raise. The Minister in the Dáil made a provision whereby different fees can be charged for those who keep open shop and those who are employed in open shop. These are all in one category and all others are in another category. I think when the Minister gives permission to charge a larger fee to those employed in open shop this should only relate to those employed as managers. There will be a number of pharmacists employed in open shop but not employed as authorised persons. It would be more in the spirit of the amendment the Minister introduced in the Dáil if he confined this particular fee to those who keep open shop and those who are employed as authorised persons for keeping open shop.

These are the main points I wish to mention. There are two minor points. One is that there should be provision in the Bill that Fellows should pay special membership fees. The second is that the provision in the 1875 Act for the election of the Council could well now be done by a matter of regulation. I do not want to stress unduly the matter which was discussed in the Dáil as regards the composition of this Council but I would like to say that the position is that a number of specific things were mentioned in the 1875 Act and a lot of those have now been removed. One thing does remain in the Act, the exact size of the Council of 21 members and the method of election is specified in the Act. I do not want to encourage the Minister to do too much legislation by regulation but it is reasonable that the question of the size and the method of election of the Council of a body such as the Pharmaceutical Society should be a matter for regulation rather than a provision in a section of the Bill.

These, then, are the main points which I should like to bring to the Minister's attention; first of all, that the authorised person should personally supervise compounding and dispensing rather than personally manage it; that the question of restriction of title should be a restriction of the use of title in connection with business and employment. I would urge that there is a case for a capital once-for-all grant to the College of Pharmacy in the nature of grants made to such bodies as the College of Surgeons and, finally, the point regarding the size and method of election of the council.

I welcome this Bill. In general it raises the status of the pharmaceutical profession and I shall confine my remarks to one small point to do with the composition of the Council. With the growth and power of the Council I suggest that the composition might be widened. It now has very extensive educational powers in relation to, amongst other things, education in University College, Dublin. It has a certain amount of power in regard to professional discipline and power to institute and finance research. Owing to the historical evolution of the Council the Council does represent, practically speaking, the point of view of retail pharmacists in the country. This, as the Minister stated in the Dáil, could be rectified.

The fact of the matter is that at present the retailers' point of view is dominant in the Council and it is likely to remain so in future. To suggest that the Minister might have the power to nominate representatives of the medical profession on the Council is not very revolutionary. I understand the similar council in Great Britain includes three members of the medical profession who are nominated by the Privy Council and if the Government can nominate members on the British Pharmaceutical Society there is no reason why there should not be the power to do so here.

The present composition of the Council contains certain anomalies. For example, no teacher of pharmacy who examines in the examinations is eligible for membership. The only doctors eligible are doctors who have the Apothecaries Hall qualifications and that excludes a very large number of examiners and doctors who are very eminent members of their profession and who are not eligible to sit on the Council. The other professional bodies which are allied with the medical profession, as the pharmaceutical profession is, have medical representatives. There are medical members on the Dental Board and also medical members on the highest bodies of the veterinary profession and really there is no reason why there should not be similar representation of the medical profession on the Pharmaceutical Society's Council. Part of the training now for pharmacists takes place in University College, Dublin, and the Council under the Bill has the power to regulate that part of the training and it seems to me to be reasonable that University College, Dublin, should have some representation on a Council that has these powers. These are matters which perhaps will be dealt with by the Report of the Commission on Higher Education. I do not want to press them. I simply want to draw the Minister's attention to them and to hope that perhaps he may consider meeting some of the points I have made.

I am very grateful to those who have contributed to the debate on this Bill. I wish to point out that the Bill is not concerned with the reorganisation of the Pharmaceutical Society as such. It is primarily concerned to clear up some ambiguities which, perhaps, appeared in the principal Act as originally drafted and which have not been clarified by the decisions of the courts. It is also designed to deal with such questions as reciprocity which have become very substantial in existing circumstances.

I listened to Senator Dooge's speech with great attention. I think that perhaps there may be one or two points that would require further consideration but I cannot think that there is anything very much in the point about the connotation of the personally managed as distinct from the personally supervised. It seems to me management certainly involves supervision and that a person who is responsible for the management of a business of this sort must also be responsible for its close supervision. I do not think there is very much in that and therefore I do not undertake that on Committee Stage I will bring in an amendment to meet the point which has been proposed by the Senator but I will give it some further consideration. The question of whether a person should be entitled whenever it would seem to enable him to avoid embarrassment to hold out that he is a member of a profession that has a certain statutory status, is another matter. I think we just cannot when we are legislating to regulate a profession with such intimate contact as this, have too much regard to the personal susceptibilities of an individual.

The question of the contribution which we might make to the education of pharmacists is, of course, important, but in that connection we should not overlook the fact that since a substantial part of the new curriculum will be followed in University College, Dublin, the State will be already very definitely giving a substantial subvention to those students who take part of their courses there. However, there might be something in the point which the Senator made that we should recoup the Society for the expenditure which it has incurred on its laboratories, and I will take that up with the Minister for Finance, but I would be very disingenuous indeed if I were to suggest that there was any great hope that my representations would be acceded to.

Regarding special membership fees for Fellows, we are in this slight difficulty that, as the intentions of the Society have been conveyed to me, their idea is that the title of Fellow should be an honorary one conferred for distinction in the practice of pharmacy and perhaps for those who have merited the distinction by reason of their contribution to the general development of the profession. It would be rather invidious to try to sell an honour and charge a special membership fee to a Fellow whom you really felt not merely would be an ornament to the Society but also would enhance its prestige.

As I said at the beginning, this is not a Bill to reorganise and reconstitute the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland. Perhaps some such measure will come in due course, but this is merely designed to deal with problems that have become immediately pressing.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for next sitting day.