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‘Musical chairs gone wrong’: We need a pharmacy minister to stay the course

Beth Kennedy looks back over a tumultuous few years in healthcare policy as yet another pharmacy minister bites the dust

There was a collective groan in the C+D offices this morning as the news came in that Neil O’Brien – our eighth pharmacy minister since 2019 – announced that he was resigning in an effort to “focus 100%” on his constituency and to “see more” of his two children.

As I write this, we’re yet to find out who the next pharmacy minister will be, but at this rate I’d start placing your bets now on how long they’ll last.

Read more: UPDATED: Neil O’Brien quits as pharmacy minister to ‘focus 100%’ on constituency

Meanwhile, this afternoon Steve Barclay was ousted as health secretary for the second time, leaving the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) to head up the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

He’s been replaced by Conservative MP for Louth and Horncastle Victoria Atkins, marking the fourth change of health secretary since Mr Barclay was first ushered into the post last summer. By now, we all know that politics is a game. But, my goodness, by now this feels all feels rather like musical chairs gone wrong.

Read more: Victoria Atkins appointed health secretary as Steve Barclay ousted

As I was looking over the recent back catalogue of pharmacy ministers this afternoon, I was struck by just how much things have chopped and changed. Does anyone remember James Morris, for example, who was only in post for a couple of months last year? Or what about Seema Kennedy, who was appointed in April 2019 and replaced by Jo Churchill that August?

None of this is to undermine any of the pharmacy ministers or health secretaries that we’ve had in recent years (indeed, some like erstwhile health sec and reality TV mainstay Matt Hancock seem perfectly capable of doing that all by themselves). To be fair to them, many barely had time to get to know their portfolio, let alone make a difference to pharmacists on the ground.

Read more: ‘Not unnoticed’: Sunak issues letter of support to community pharmacy

So I suppose this is what I’m asking for. Let’s shelve the plea for better funding for a change; what we really need is a pharmacy minister who’s had the time to get to know the sector, one who will understand the issues at the coalface and lobby for change.

So please, Rishi Sunak, enough with all of the reshuffles – or at least let us recover from this one first.

Beth Kennedy is the editor of C+D

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