History & Heritage

The formation of an organisation to protect the “professional risk” inherent in the practice of pharmacy was first suggested by Mr H R Gibb in March 1914.

Almost a year later, in February 1915, the Chemists Defence Association of New Zealand Inc was formed with Frederick Castle presiding as the Chairman and James Burberry as the Secretary and Treasurer.

The objective of the Chemists Defence Association was to provide “a common ground on which all pharmacists in New Zealand can unite for their mutual protection and defence”. The organisation’s motto read “Errare Est Humanum” or “To Err is Human”.

Membership was on a pharmacy basis and by the time the first Annual General Meeting took place, it stood at 72 members.

During the first year of operation, Mr Castle reported that the Chemists Defence Association had “already proven itself a protection and guide to pharmacists generally” and in doing so the Association “avoided several cases of threatened prosecution”. Mr Castle felt moved to comment that “unity is strength”, which summed up the success of the organisation’s first year of operation.

Some of the cases dealt with in the early years included:

  • A threatened prosecution against a pharmacist by the Cheeseborough Vaseline Company because it claimed they were not fulfilling the company’s labelling requirements on tins of vaseline
  • A threatened prosecution by the Health Department for using misleading labels on Hewlett’s Food, particularly the claim that it contained “woody fibre”
  • “Medical men” making use of a “secret formula” for prescription medicines (a common theme)
  • Sale of “medicated wine” by two Association members – which the Association promptly reported to the Police
  • Numerous representations and submissions on various legislative amendments
  • An effort to obtain a commissioned rank for pharmacists working in the military.

While unusual claims were received over the years (In 1983, the Association paid out a claim involving the loss of three calves and 10 bags of meal), the common theme since 1915 involves dispensing errors and complaints from members of the public.

The first successful claim did not eventuate until 1926, after 11 years of operation. By this time there were a total of 191 member pharmacies, a reserve fund of £474 and an accumulated fund of £148.

Membership started at £1 per annum for a guaranteed £500 cover, although most members increased the amount of cover to £2,500 by paying an extra premium.

Later on, pharmacists who had several staff members paid more for their membership because of the increased risk. It is interesting to note that hospital pharmacists were excluded from membership because the risk from large hospitals was felt to be “almost beyond the scope of the scheme”.

An inadvertently amusing report in 1930 noted the increase in claims relating to medicines spilled on customer’s clothing which were invariably dealt with “on the spot”.

In 1983, it was decided to change the name to Pharmacy Defence Association in recognition of the fact that pharmacists are not chemists.

Then, in 1995, Pharmacy Defence Association Ltd was dissolved and Pharmacy Defence Association Incorporated formed to take account of not only the requirements of the Companies Act 1993 but also to enable the Association to offer a wider range of benefits to members, now on an individual pharmacist membership basis.

The Pharmacy Defence Association today

While the original purpose of PDA remains – to protect and support the interests of members, the resources required to meet that objective have increased considerably over the years.

As of 2024, membership now extends beyond pharmacists to intern pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, pharmacy accuracy checking technicians and some allied health professionals.

The present Board of Management believes the original management committee headed by Frederick Castle would be well pleased with both the growth of the Association over the years and the large number of members who have benefited from the services we offer.