Century of dispensing with old ways Ruby Macandrew.
Wellington’s inaugural all-night pharmacy was one of the first of its kind in New Zealand, writes
Wartime staff losses and a desire to work smarter, rather than harder provided the push needed to establish Wellington’s first urgent pharmacy 100 years ago.
Launched on a shoestring by a group of pharmacists, in partnership with the Pharmacy Board of New Zealand, the urgent service meant a large number of chemists in the capital were able to shut up shop at 6pm, rather than the usual 9pm.
According to a The Dominion newspaper report from July 1917, 23 of the city’s 36 pharmacies were ‘‘favourable to the change’’, forming a company to rent a space in Cambridge Terrace.
‘‘The matter had been forced upon the attention of Wellington pharmacists by the shortage of experienced hands and the great difficulty in arranging meal reliefs.
‘‘It is interesting to learn that between 6pm on Monday and 8am on Tuesday, only 12 prescriptions were dispensed, which those interested in the project take as proof that it was folly for 36 pharmacies to remain open until 9 o’clock of an evening when the number of prescriptions was so few.’’
Those who objected to the amalgamation did so out of financial concern.
‘‘Master pharmacists were reluctant to shorten hours, perhaps because labour was cheap and it was the assistants who were kept late,’’ wrote former pharmacist Reg Coombes in his 1981 book Pharmacy In New Zealand: Aspects And Reminiscences.
Coombes noted that unions, although in their infancy, had been seeking changes in conditions. They wanted general trading hours fixed and concessions made for pharmacists to be permitted to sell urgent requirements after hours.
Despite the objections, the urgent pharmacy project was successfully launched on August 20, 1917 at 59 Cambridge Tce – an address it would occupy for the next 66 years.
The urgent dispensary opened when the regular pharmacies closed, giving 24-hour service in most towns, including weekends and holidays with a pharmacist on call by telephone or night bell until next morning.
While the first urgent pharmacies around the country were a result of World War I, the earliest recorded regular night service was provided as long ago as 1890 when George Mee, of Wellington, advertised for an overnight assistant.
‘‘There is a comfortable bed sitting-room for the assistant sleeping on the premises for afterhours dispensing,’’ his job vacancy notice read.
However, the first dedicated urgent pharmacies weren’t established until the 1910s, with Wellington, Dunedin and Napier among the early adopters.
Since then, all-night urgent pharmacies have become a crucial service around the country.
‘‘Never has any place reverted to the old method of keeping open until all hours,’’ wrote The Dominion in late 1917.
Such was the success of Wellington’s after-hours facility that a dedicated new building was constructed for the Pharmacy Board of New Zealand on the same site in 1931.
The art deco Pharmacy Building was conceived by local architect Stanley Fearn, the engineer was S T Silver and the site was constructed by Fletchers Bros for a contract price of £11,531.
The building was officially opened by the Minister of Health A J Stallworthy, on July 1, 1931, and heralded as the new centre of the Dominion’s pharmaceutical organisations.
The Pharmacy Board of New Zealand occupied the building until 1983.
Today, the business is known as the Accident and Urgent Medical Centre and it has moved a few hundred metres south, to Newtown’s Adelaide Rd. ●➤ Centenary celebrations for Wellington’s first urgent pharmacy are being planned for the end of October.