Chemists are not ‘men of affluence’

May 1921: A pharmacist fights back after the profession comes under attack as being a ‘sordid and soulless scandal’ 

Pharmacy was coming under attack from a number of different fronts, according to the May 1921 edition of the AJP

In the issue, Sydney pharmacist Frank English was highly critical of an article published recently in Labor newspaper The Worker, which claimed that: “At the present time probably the most colossal and most unscrupulous profiteering that could be conceived goes on in the chemists’ shops run by Private Enterprise”.

“The majority of purchasers don’t know whether a bottle of mixture—generally ostentatiously coloured — concocted from a Latin prescription, which they can’t read, is worth, on the basis of contents value, one shilling, or five shillings, or tuppence-ha’penny,” the article had said.

“Very often the tuppence ha’penny is nearer the correct mark; but the intrinsic value and the price charged are two very different things. Patent medicines, pills, liniments, and plasters come in the same—and frequently a worse—category. 

And although the patent rights of these items often leave the chemist with no option to charging the
proprietorially prescribed prices, there is good reason for believing that the manufacturers’ exorbitant
profit is in many cases repeated on the part of the retail distributers”.

The Worker called for “state-owned and controlled chemists’ shops” as being an “urgently-necessary corrective of this sordid and soulless scandal”.

“Not only should such shops be established for economic reasons, but for humanitarian reasons as well,” the writer said.

Mr English responded buy saying “perusal of this article shows that ‘The Worker‘ has a very imperfect grasp of the actual position, as disclosed by figures, books and income tax return, of the average
chemist’s business.

“The writer…. seems to base his charges on the cost of the ingredients only of some of the medicines ordinarily bought in a chemist’s shop, without making any allowance for the general overhead charges
and the inadequate profits on many lines the chemist is bound to stock to satisfy the demands of the
public, including ‘The Worker‘ scribe.

In the dispensing of a prescription there are several factors that must be considered in determining
the cost of a prescription: First, there is the actual cost of the ingredients used; then recompense
for the chemist’s time and knowledge; then compensation for all the overhead charges, rent, labour,
losses, dead time, and dead stock, the two latter representing a not inconsiderable factor in the

Assuming a chemist to be a necessary institution, then it is obvious that the public must pay for dead time, i.e., time—Unprofitable time—the chemist must fill in waiting for the business that generally only comes in
disjointed periods,” Mr English wrote.

“Perhaps the best answer to refute the charges of the ‘Worker’ critic is the general low net profits
as disclosed by the income tax assessments against chemists generally, and by the fact that chemists
almost universally cannot be regarded as men of affluence”.


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