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

The Wellingtonian - - Out & About -

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.

Far left, the Phar­macy Build­ing in Welling­ton’s Cam­bridge Ter­race in 1931, and left, as it stands today.

The Welling­ton ur­gent phar­macy is now known as Ac­ci­dent and Ur­gent Med­i­cal Cen­tre and has moved a few hun­dred me­tres south, to New­town’s Ade­laide Rd. PHOTO: YEL­LOW PAGES

PHO­TOS: EVENING POST, CHARLES COLLINS/WELLING­TON CITY COUN­CIL

PHOTO: ALEXANDER TURN­BULL LI­BRARY

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