“Pharmacy is heading into one of the most trying times in history”

December 1970: Pharmacy is set to face “astounding assertions” and “freak facts” at a parliamentary inquiry

“Most of our leaders are agreed that pharmacy is headed for one of its most trying times in history, with the beginning this month in Sydney of the House of Representatives Select Committee inquiry into the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme,” said the AJP editorial for December 1970.

“The Select Committee has very wide terms of reference, and it will certainly examine closely all aspects of pharmacy profitability—especially those which might suggest that NHS medicines could be cheaper because chemists are too wealthy!”.

The editorial expressed the view that the Guild would present an “expertly-prepared case designed to circumvent ill-founded and sensational criticism of member proprietors”, but believed the profession was facing a difficult time with the inquiry following from months of accusations levelled against pharmacy in mainstream media.

“The Select Committee hearings will produce some spectacular statements against Guild pharmacists, pharmaceutical manufacturers and pharmaceutical wholesalers,” the editorial opined.

“Doubtless these statements will be seized upon with great delight by the press, which has shown itself to have little collective objectivity where pharmacy is concerned”.

“Some of the more astounding assertions are likely to come from individuals with axes to grind, who will voluntarily submit comments and opinions, along with freak facts”. 

“We must all “keep our heads” and hold them high, where they belong, through the difficult times which are about to begin”.

*Meanwhile, “sweeping restrictions” on broadcast and television advertising of proprietary medicines were being drafted by the Commonwealth Health Department and the National Health and Medical Research Council, a report in the same issue said.

A preliminary draft circulated to manufacturers had brought “a flurry of protests and top-level meetings
aimed at securing substantial amendments,” AJP reported.

If enforced by the Commonwealth Censor, the “Guide to Advertising Containing Therapeutic Claims” would ban “any incorrect statements, half truths or unverified assertions” relating to product composition, effects, indications, value or place of origin.

Manufacturers claimed the “Guide” was “too loose” and could have the effect of forcing some useful products off the market.

A forum on the advertising of medicines had heard that much current advertising “suggests that over-the-counter drugs are safe, developing in the public mind a false sense of security”.

This was the view of Dr Jack Thomas, long-time AJP consultant, and then member of the University of Sydney’s Department of Pharmacy.

Dr. Thomas said that the more drugs advertising campaigns sold, the more side effects occurred in the community, although the majority of consumers would gain some therapeutic benefit.

The technique of selling to the mass market was to presuppose that over-the-counter drugs were normal items of commerce and that the market decided the sales, he said.

Dr Thomas told a questioner that if one product was “pushed hard” by advertising, the public got the impression that all medicines were good. The totality of approval flowed over the range, particularly analgesics.

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