The Association has been in existence since 1980 and is a national voluntary association committed to ensuring that the unique role qualified pharmaceutical assistants occupy within the pharmacy profession is upheld and developed.
“Pharmaceutical assistant” means a person who before coming into operation of section 4(1) of this act was competent, under section 19 of the Pharmacy Act, (Ireland) Amendment Act 1890 to transact the business of a pharmacist in his or her temporary absence” (Part 1.  2(1) of the Pharmacy act 2007).

The qualification of Pharmaceutical Assistants was formulated, validated and examined by the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland and entitled those who passed the exam to “to transact the business of a licentiate of the Pharmaceutical Society in his temporary absence but shall not be entitled to conduct or manage a business or to keep open shop on their own account”. (Pharmacy Act, (Ireland) Amendment Act 1890)
This is the context within which pharmaceutical assistants have worked for the past 126 years. The training course for pharmaceutical assistants ceased in 1979, with the last examination in 1984. There are now just 393 qualified pharmaceutical assistants on the PSI register, all of whom are over 50 and 99% women.
Since 1890 ‘Temporary absence’ clause has been open to a wide range of interpretations. Custom and practice of many of our colleagues highlight how it varies from holiday cover of any pharmacist to weekly days off, late night opening, sick leave, maternity cover, unscheduled short absences and the myriad of situations that can occur in life.
The Council of the PSI now wish to use their powers under the 2007 Pharmacy Act to legally define ‘temporary absence’ to just 12 hours per week, which effectively results in the extinction of our profession and an excessive interference with the vested rights of PAs to work and earn a living

Important Points:
• Equality and Non-Discrimination – Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights explicitly prohibits discrimination. This means that everyone is entitled to the equal enjoyment of all of the rights in the ECHR. Given that pharmaceutical assistants are predominantly female and that part-time workers within the profession are predominantly female, any attempt to impose minimum hours of service as part of the qualification of the conditions of exercise of the profession will have a far greater impact on women, violating the equality rights guarantee in the Constitution and under ECHR.

• When person completed the relevant academic and apprenticeship requirements and passed the examinations of the PSI could be registered, they had a reasonable expectation of their career path and economic benefits. The PSI should not be allowed ‘change the goal posts’ over 30 years later, particular as they are not offering any opportunity to upgrade.
• Narrowing the factual parameters pertaining to the practice of qualified pharmaceutical assistants by prescriptive measures has the effect of interfering with an established right to practice on the part of the PA which attracts constitutional protection as both a personal and property right (Articles 40.3 and/or 43)
• Many PAs have worked in the same pharmacy for over 20 or 30 years, and no account is taken of the knowledge, experiences and customer relationships built up over those years. The PA knows the customers, they trust the qualifed pharmaceutical assistant who has provided them with a service over the years. This is crucial to patient safety
PSI see it safe pharmacy practice as making the pharmacist bring in a locum with minimum experience and no knowledge of customers and business to cover ‘temporary absence’, rather than leaving the qualified pharmaceutical assistant cover an hour over 12 hours.
• Logic of being able to act in ‘temporary absence’ for 12 hours and on the 13th hour not being able to cover. Are Health and Safety concerns being addressed where there is no requirement for CPD or Fitness to Practice?
• Interpretation of ‘Temporary absence’ that has stood for many years is where the pharmacist is away from the pharmacy on a temporary basis. The concept of “temporary absence” has an established meaning in terms of pharmacy practice since 1890. It is synonomous with “not permanent”, i.e. conduct business on own accord etc (as outlined on certificate of qualification). It is related to context and depends on the facts of a particular situation.
• Defining ‘temporary absence’ in concrete terms , exact hours etc lacks logic or knowledge of the real world. It will become an offence if a PA works for one minute outside the hours defined. This does not allow for normal life challenges e.g sickness ,funerals, traffic delays and a whole myriad of problems that occur on a daily basis.

History

The qualification of assistant to a pharmaceutical chemist came into being under Section 19 of the 1875 Act ; such qualified persons would be competent to “transact the business of a licentiate of the Pharmaceutical Society in his temporary absence”.

In the early 20th century, those wishing to become pharmaceutical chemists or assistants to pharmaceutical chemists were required to pass either Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland’s own Preliminary Exam or matriculation exam in one of a number of universities, colleges or bodies. There was an apprenticeship of four years with pharmaceutical chemist or apothecary and during this time training apprentices had to attend 3 month course.

Whilst the pathway to qualify as a pharmacist changed in 1961 with the introduction of the B.SC (Pharm) degree, the process of qualifying to become a pharmaceutical assistant remained. Student apprentices undertook an integrated 4 year learning course, comprised of a three year apprenticeship under articles of pupilage, followed by a forth year full time studies in the College of Pharmacy; then took the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland’s Examination for Assistant to Pharmaceutical Chemist.

The majority of those who qualified as pharmaceutical assistants were women, 91.75% in 1980, reflecting the social and cultural norms and educational opportunities of the 60’s and 70’s, where girls were less likely than boys to have had an opportunity to study the sciences at second level schools or to aspire to university or full time career (Hannan et al; 1983, Schooling and Sex Roles: Sex Differences in Subject Provision and Student Choice in Irish Post-Primary Schools, ESRI).

Hence, the qualification of pharmaceutical assistant cannot be viewed in the context of 21 st century educational, social and cultural norms, but must be understood and evaluated in the context of its time – where when the final examination for assistants to pharmaceutical chemists took place in 1984, just over a quarter, 510, of the 2045 pharmaceutical chemists were BSc (Pharm) graduates. (Corrigan, Fisher and Henman, 1984). Fewer probably had qualified by completing a three year university degree .The majority of pharmaceutical chemists had qualified, like pharmaceutical assistants, under the integrated learning approach – a three year apprenticeship under articles of pupilage.