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The Thérèse Coffey antibiotic-sharing reports leave a bitter aftertaste

Reports that the new health secretary has shared antibiotics with friends and family only add to the growing picture of a woefully misinformed health secretary, says C+D’s editor Beth Kennedy

As any pharmacist worth their salt will tell you, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the biggest threats to global health that the world is currently facing. Indeed, the World Health Organisation has listed it as one of the top 10 global threats facing humanity.

So it was concerning to see media reports last weekend that Thérèse Coffey, health secretary and deputy prime minister, has admitted to civil servants that she has shared prescription antibiotics with friends and family.

Pharmacists will undoubtedly have read that last sentence through their frustrated fingers.

Antibiotics are not sweets. Patients should never give any of their prescription medication to others. And Ms Coffey should not have had any leftover antibiotics to share out in the first place, given the importance of finishing a course of treatment. AMR campaigners, I feel your pain.

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

But it seems Ms Coffey may have learned her lesson. According to the Sunday Times, in response to the reports, she has encouraged people not to share medicines and has confirmed she will not do so herself in the future.

We are, of course, all human and make mistakes. But it is undoubtedly worrying that our new health secretary, of all people, seems to have admitted to making such a basic gaffe.

Then again, I can’t say I’m surprised by the reports. Ms Coffey has hardly demonstrated that she has her finger on the pulse of many of the issues affecting this country’s healthcare professionals. Far from it.

As a case in point, in one of her first interviews as health secretary, she told Radio 4 listeners that primary care is predominantly delivered by doctors, dentists, and, erm, chiropractors.

This shows a monumental lack of knowledge about primary care. For one thing, excluding pharmacists from that list, especially after their superhuman efforts on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic, is, frankly, insulting.

And for another, while many patients do choose to see a chiropractor if they have a twinge in their back, suggesting that these practitioners form part of the backbone of community-based healthcare seems a bit of a reach, to say the least.

In fairness, pharmacy teams and healthcare professionals more generally don’t seem to have been given a reason to expect any great level of understanding from Ms Coffey. After all, she was one of 305 MPs who voted in favour of cutting pharmacy funding in England in 2016 and has consistently voted against smoking bans.

For all her blunders, it is good to see that while the cigar-toting Ms Coffey doesn’t seem to have kicked that habit this Stoptober, she has managed to quit treating antibiotics like Tic Tacs when around family and friends.

Beth Kennedy is editor at C+D

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