This is the story of Oliver Twist – a poor young apothecary student who was brought up in the workhouse of a busy community pharmacy. Oliver was just a pre-reg dogsbody, made to fill in for chemist staff and chosen to do the extended hours.
"How can I get clinical experience?" thought Oliver. "I spend hours checking off stock and dispensing, while Mr Beadle the apothecary sees the patients so he can sign them up for advanced services!"
Starved of protected learning time, Oliver worked to midnight doing complex pharmaceutical calculations for the pre-reg exam. The dispensary drudges the pharmacy employed were too busy filling MDS trays to help, so Oliver went to the manager and said: "Please sir – I want some more experience."
"Some more?" cried Mr Beadle. "You'll take what you're given and be grateful. You pre-regs don't know you're born – wait till you've registered and have real targets to chase!" But this was too much for Oliver and, after scraping through his exams, he was determined to leave.
Soon Oliver was hawking his certificate around to anyone who would have him, when he bumped into the M.U.Artful Dodger
Soon Oliver was hawking his certificate around to anyone who would have him, when he bumped into another newly registered apothecary known as the M.U.Artful Dodger. "Come with me," said the Dodger. "I'll take you somewhere better – come and work at The High Street Apothecary. The manager Mr Fagin will give you an easy time – only 100 items a day to check, and all the support staff you could want."
Sure enough it started that way, with promise of support and development, and a few weeks later the M.U.Artful Dodger took Oliver out onto the shop floor and showed him how to pick patients to pocket MURs.
The Dodger made it look easy, but whenever Oliver tried the patients realised what he was up to and often refused. Then one day the area manager Bill Sykes came by and shouted: "Come here, Twist!" He grabbed Oliver by the performance contracts and squeezed hard. "You must pickpocket more MURs, boy – or there'll be trouble!"
Poor Oliver – every day Bill Sykes called round to see how many MURs he had pocketed, until eventually the pressure got too much and he started to pick people without them realising. Oliver's actions were seen by the area team constable and, supported by his friend Mr Bumble, he appeared before the fitness-to-practise magistrate – who was appalled at the inhuman treatment meted out to him.
"It is a sad reflection of these Victorian times," said the magistrate, "that you are forced into such deeds by a cruel and heartless employer. The law can but hope that in 200 years time such slavery and drudgery will be unknown to apothecaries of the twenty-first century." And, to quote Dickens: "'If the law supposes that,' said Mr Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, 'the law is an ass'."