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Thérèse Coffey: What is the new health secretary’s history with pharmacy?

Thérèse Coffey has been appointed new health secretary following Liz Truss’ election win, No. 10 has confirmed. But what does her voting record reveal about her opinions on the pharmacy sector? 

Ms Coffey has become the third health secretary in as many months after taking the reins from interim post-holder Steve Barclay – a staunch Boris Johnson supporter.

It followed a cabinet shake-up in July after a slew of resignations that began with then-health secretary Sajid Javid, who quit in protest over Mr Johnson's premiership.


Snubs pharmacy in first interview


In an interview with BBC Radio 4 this morning (September 7), Ms Coffey told viewers that "the majority care of is delivered in primary care".

However, she failed to mention pharmacy, instead adding that primary care is mainly delivered “by doctors, dentists and chiropractors”.

Read more: Who was the only Tory MP to vote against the pharmacy cuts?

Since entering parliament in 2010, she has generally sided with the government on votes regarding health issues, which included voting in support of the government’s 2012 overhaul of the NHS.

She was also among the 305 MPs who voted in favour of cutting pharmacy funding in England, following a parliamentary debate in November 2016. Only one Conservative MP voted against the cuts.

In October 2019, Ms Coffey voted in favour of a Queen’s Speech that called for continued empowerment for GPs to commission services, a strong Care Quality Commission, and not to reverse a decision to seek to cut admin costs, for example by abolishing primary care trusts.

Ms Coffey takes on the health secretary role, as well as becoming Ms Truss’s deputy Prime Minister, at a crucial time for community pharmacy. It follows Mr Javid’s announcement on his intentions to reform primary care – starting with pharmacy – at the NHS ConfedExpo in Liverpool in June.

Read more: Maria Caulfield: Pharmacy reform update to come in matter of weeks

Later that month, then-pharmacy minister Maria Caulfield told C+D that an announcement on the government’s planned pharmacy overhaul was only “weeks away”.

However, last month the DH was unable to share an update on this planned reform when approached by C+D.


Contact with "leading pharmacy chains"


Ms Coffey's voting record since entering parliament in 2010 has faced significant criticism.

She voted against the Assisted Dying Bill in 2015 and was one of 174 Conservative MPs who opposed extending access to abortion pills at home in March this year. She has also consistently voted against smoking bans.

Meanwhile, during a parliamentary debate on cost-of-living increases earlier this year, Ms Coffey said the Department of Work and Pensions has asked “leading pharmacy chains” to become involved in plans to ask patients if they are eligible for pension credit.

Read more: Pharmacy smoking cessation service set for slow start, PSNC anticipates

Ms Coffey told the House of Commons that the government “had paid advertising in post offices and in GPs’ waiting areas in the past”.

While “doctors often tell us that they do not necessarily like to be attached to benefit claiming and similar matters”, she added, “my understanding is that we intend to resume that contact”.

She said: “I have also asked the leading pharmacy chains to be involved, because that is often a more regular way in which people get help. We will try different outlets, in addition to those we have tried in the past, to make people more aware of the potential opportunities.”

As Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions, she has in recent months answered questions concerning the health and social care levy, but has yet to make any further mentions of pharmacy in the chamber.


What’s her background?


With a PhD in chemistry from University College London, prior to entering parliament she held various finance roles at Mars Drinks UK and the BBC, also making several failed attempts to enter the European Parliament.

She has previously held positions as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs between 2016 and 2019, before becoming a minister in the same department later in 2019.

Most recently, she served as Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions since 2019. She also served as Ms Truss’s campaign manager in the parliamentary stages of the leadership contest, remaining a senior figure within the campaign.


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