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Will Rishi Sunak put community pharmacy’s ‘needs above politics’?

Pharmacy bodies have congratulated Rishi Sunak following his appointment as Prime Minister amid fresh calls for him to invest in the sector and alleviate the “enormous” pressures it faces.

In his victory speech outside 10 Downing Street this afternoon (October 25), Mr Sunak – the UK’s third prime minister in just over two months – pledged to deliver on the 2019 Conservative manifesto’s promises of “a stronger NHS”, “building an economy that embraces the opportunities of Brexit”, and levelling up.

Mr Sunak promised to earn public trust and pledged that his government “will have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level”.

“I will place economic stability and confidence at the heart of this government’s agenda. This will mean difficult decisions to come. But you saw me during COVID-19 doing everything I could do protect businesses and people,” he added.

Read more: Pharmacy bodies blast ‘devastating’ English funding deal

“I stand here before you, ready to lead our country into the future, to put your needs above politics,” Mr Sunak said. 

The former chancellor – the son of a pharmacist and a GP – frequently referred to his family’s pharmacy connections throughout his leadership campaign earlier this summer. His mother Usha Sunak owned Sunak Pharmacy in Southampton between 1995 and 2014.

For their part, pharmacy representative organisations have broadly welcomed Mr Sunak’s appointment.

But as chancellor, Mr Sunak faced significant criticism from pharmacy bodies for failing to provide pharmacies with COVID-19 costs relief and inadequately funding the sector.


NPA: “Naïve to expect any special treatment”


National Pharmacy Association (NPA) chief executive Mark Lyonette told C+D that the body “had several exchanges with Rishi Sunak as chancellor” and would “of course work constructively with him as Prime Minister, as well as his new ministerial team when it forms”.

However, he noted that “it would be naïve to expect any special treatment from Mr Sunak just because of his familiarity with the sector as a young man”.

Read more: Sector in crisis: Thousands of pharmacies at risk of closure as inflation bites

The NPA needs “to keep making the painstaking case for investment in community pharmacy, based on a demonstrable return in terms of patient outcomes and benefits to the NHS”, Mr Lyonette told C+D.

“Even with a change at the top of government, the prevailing circumstances for the health sector remain unchanged,” he added.

Community pharmacy should be considered as “part of the solution” to NHS backlog and the primary care crisis, Mr Lyonette said.


“Much has been made of his connections”


Meanwhile, Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee chief executive Janet Morrison congratulated the Prime Minister, adding that she is eager to work with his new government to “address [the] challenges” that community pharmacy faces.

“Given his family connection to pharmacy, we are particularly looking forward to working with him and his ministers to help the community pharmacy sector to reach its full potential to support patients and the NHS,” she added.

At the same time, work should recognise and alleviate “the enormous pressures that the entire network now faces”, Ms Morrison continued.

Read more: PSNC to mull alternative types of contract as current model ‘not working’

Association of Independent Multiple pharmacies CEO Leyla Hannbeck also congratulated Mr Sunak on his appointment.

“Much has been made of his connections and how his earlier years delivering pharmacy prescriptions as well as learning the books may assist our fortunes,” she added.

“At a time of limited resource and unparalleled capacity challenges to the NHS, investing in our sector represents one of the best productivity measures his government could make,” she told C+D.

Meanwhile, a Company Chemists' Association spokesperson pointed out that Mr Sunak "has seen first-hand the value of community service, and how pharmacists are the ‘responsive, local heartbeat of our healthcare system’”.

They continued: “The Prime Minister acknowledges that there is an opportunity for the NHS to allow pharmacies to do more. However, this can only be achieved if Government recognise the economic crisis the sector is in.”


Voted in favour of pharmacy cuts


Mr Sunak’s rise to the top has been fast. Elected MP for Richmond in North Yorkshire in 2015, he was appointed into Boris Johnson's cabinet just four years later.

But he 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.


Recent encounter with sector


Earlier this year, while visiting the newly opened Knights Pharmacy in Bedale, North Yorkshire, Mr Sunak praised the hypertension case-finding service, adding “we know that pharmacists are the responsive, local heartbeat of our healthcare system”.

Read more: Rishi Sunak tests hypertension service at Knights Pharmacy opening

Mr Sunak is expected to form his new government later today, with speculation rife over who he will name as the new health secretary.

It follows Liz Truss’ 49-day tenure as Prime Minister, which saw Thérèse Coffey named as health secretary and Will Quince as primary care minister.

Following a cabinet shake-up earlier this year in July, under Mr Johnson’s premiership, Steve Barclay temporarily undertook the role of health secretary, while James Morris served as pharmacy minister.


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