HC Deb 11 February 1834 vol 21 cc233-6
Mr. Warburton

rose, in pursuance of the notice he had given, to move for a Select Committee, to inquire into the various branches of the medical profession. He would content himself by simply stating a few of the grounds on which, in his opinion, it now became imperative for the House, in the exercise of their legislative capacity, to interfere, and accommodate, if possible, the dissensions well known to exist among the several branches of the profession. The by-laws of the College of Physicians had been long the cause of variance between the Licentiates and the Fellows of that body. The House would recollect, that in the last year a Bill had been brought in to alter the laws respecting the Apothecaries' Company, and that Petitions praying for alterations were poured in from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and other towns of Scotland. No complaints had been made against that Bill, except on the ground, that it did not carry alterations far enough. The laws, as they now stood, were subject to general and well-founded complaints; he would not, however, detain the House, but content himself with moving, "That a Select Committee be appointed, to inquire into the laws and regulations, regarding the education and practice of the various branches of the medical profession, in the United Kingdom."

Colonel Wood

felt great objections to the appointment of a Committee; and although a Bill had been brought into the House last Session, to alter the Apothecaries' Act, it was to be remembered, that it was the production of the hon. Member himself who made the present Motion. The present law did not prevent men educated in Scotland or Ireland, from passing examinations in England; after which, they were at liberty to set up as practitioners in any part of the United Kingdom. The Colleges of Surgeons and of Physicians were regulated by Royal Charters; and he did not see how they were to be violated. The last Apothecaries' Act was passed in 1815, and he deemed it to be the poor man's protection. The rich could always procure the best of medical aid, but the poor man must put up with whoever the parish might provide for him; and if the law had not enforced a strict education, and rigid examination of medical students, incompetent persons would be introduced into the profession, and parishes would take the cheapest practitioners for the service of the poor. The Act of 1815 was, therefore, the poor man's protection, and he should be very sorry to see it altered. The Committee would lead to a very wide inquiry, and, in his opinion, would only waste the public time, and produce no beneficial results.

Mr. Gillon

would vote for the appointment of the Committee. He complained that the Apothecaries' Act, as it now stood, prevented the Licentiates of Scotland and Ireland practising in the Sister Kingdom. They had to undergo a five years' apprenticeship to learn what they already knew; and, in fact, the Act operated only as a most injurious monopoly. At a period when Government was putting an end to all monopolies, it was singular, that the monopoly of mind alone should remain. The monopoly of the Apothecaries' Company was injurious to the country at large, and particularly so to the teachers of the medical art. He had heard complaints against the law from every part of the kingdom.

Mr. Littleton

could assure the House, that the investigation would be popular in Ireland. He had discoursed with many professional persons upon the subject in Dublin, and there was not one that did not acquiesce in the propriety of some arrangements, by which the privileges of the profession in the two kingdoms would be equalized.

Mr. O'Dwyer

hoped the House would permit him to say, that the medical and surgical profession in Ireland, especially the latter, had arrived at that eminence and perfection, as to make it most expedient to guard against any ill-advised interference with the regulation of these bodies. The School of Surgery of Ireland, held at this moment the highest reputation for practical science, and, from what he knew and had heard, he would undertake to say, that any alteration with it would be most detrimental. He would say, however, with respect to the Apothecaries' Company of Ireland, that it much required investigation. A body such as that, which controlled and directed that branch of the profession, should be open to the competition of talent, and should be exclusively professional in its duties and objects. The Apothecaries' Company, however, had not objects exclusively professional; it was a trading company; and the qualification for its most important offices depended on the amount of capital invested in the stock of the Company that the candidate was so lucky as to possess. He was sure the House would agree, that the honors and offices of this body should be entirely open to competition. He had lately been informed, that this company had instituted proceedings against physicians regularly educated, and treated them as if they were ignorant practitioners, for having compounded medicines. He was of opinion that a person authorised to prescribe medicine should know how to compound it; and he would, therefore, support any proposition to overthrow this monopoly; at the same time that he would take care to guard against incapacity, by establishing an examination in pharmacy, before a court properly constituted. He was of opinion, too, that the monopoly of the College of Physicians of London should be destroyed. He thought that there could be no reason why a physician of the universities of these countries, or of the schools of the Continent, whose works enriched the science of medicine, and who were the founders of the most important discoveries, should be excluded from the reward of their talents, by an ungenerous and selfish monopoly. At all events, he hoped the Committee would endeavour to elevate every branch of the profession, by arranging an even system of medical education, founded upon that model of severe study, and intense practical application, which, he was proud to say, had gained for the Irish colleges the high reputation they enjoyed.

Mr. Hume

said, that he thought it highly absurd, that surgeons who had passed through severe examinations were not allowed to dispense medicines in this country. He had himself gone through all his examinations, yet he dared not compound medicines for sale, though he considered himself as capable to do so as any apothecary in the land. It was highly necessary that surgeons should possess the power of dispensing drugs; for, in small country towns, the medical practitioner was generally physician, surgeon, and apothecary, at once. He should like to see the examination of medical men conducted in open Court, as was the practice on the Continent; but he was sorry to say, that with respect to medical science, this country was in a state of barbarism as compared with France. He should vote for the proposed inquiry.

Mr. Warburton

said, that at present, the certificate of qualification, from the College of Surgeons, or from the Apothecaries' Company, was not always sufficient for practice, even in England, for the army and navy Medical Boards instituted strict inquiries into the acquirements of all gentlemen, before they were allowed to receive commissions. The same caution was exercised by the East India Company. The Commissioners of Inquiry into the Scotch Universities had complained, that men of medical science, as physicians, should be compelled to undergo five years' service, merely to learn the menial duties of the Apothecaries' shop. He did not complain of the Apothecaries' Company. The members of it had endeavoured to raise the standard of medical science and reputation; and had done all that men could do, under the difficult circumstances in which they were placed.

The Motion was agreed to, and the Committee appointed.