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Victoria Atkins: What is the new health secretary’s history with pharmacy?

As Conservative MP Victoria Atkins is appointed health secretary, C+D looks back at her voting record and previous brushes with the pharmacy sector

Ms Atkins was appointed as secretary of state for health and social care yesterday (November 13) in Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s latest cabinet reshuffle.


She replaces Steve Barclay, who was first made health secretary in July 2022, returning for a second time that October after Thérèse Coffey took up the post for a brief 49-day stint under Liz Truss’s fleeting premiership


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


Ms Atkins said that she was “honoured to have been asked to serve” as health secretary during a “critical time” for the sector.


The Conservative MP for Louth and Horncastle added that she would look to “cut waiting lists and improve patient care” during what will be a “very challenging winter”.  


Ms Atkins also said that she was “determined to drive forward discussions with striking unions”, and bring an end to the "ongoing" industrial action across the healthcare sector.



Track record with community pharmacy


Ms Atkins was elected to parliament in 2015, serving as the member for the Lincolnshire seat of Louth and Horncastle.


In 2016, she was one of the 305 MPs who voted in favour of the cuts to English pharmacy funding. Just one Conservative MP, Jason McCartney, voted against his party.


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


Also in 2016, she advocated remaining in the European Union (EU) ahead of the Brexit referendum.


In July 2022, Ms Atkins visited a local pharmacy, the Co-op Pharmacy in Louth. At the time, she said that she looked forward to working with her local pharmaceutical committee (LPC), Community Pharmacy Lincolnshire, to help it “continue the excellent service [it] provides” and ensure that pharmacies were “staffed adequately.”


She joins the Department of Health (DH) from her role as financial secretary to the Treasury – a position she has held from October 2022. She follows in the footsteps of Mr Barclay, who also held a role as chief secretary to the Treasury prior to his appointment as health secretary.


Read more: Government launches domestic abuse codeword scheme for pharmacies


Ms Atkins has held a number of ministerial roles in her political career, including minister for Afghan resettlement between September 2021 and July 2022. She was the Home Office undersecretary of state for crime, safeguarding and vulnerability between 2017 and 2021.


In January 2021, C+D reported that Ms Atkins, as safeguarding minister, had hailed a pharmacy scheme that offered a “lifeline” for potential domestic abuse victims.


The “Ask for ANI” scheme saw a trained pharmacy worker offer a private space for potential domestic abuse victims, and was launched in all of Boots’ 2,300 branches and 255 independent pharmacies.


The Safe Spaces scheme now operates in all Boots, Morrisons, Superdrug and Well pharmacies and hundreds of independent pharmacies.



Diabetes advocate



Ms Atkins is married to Paul Kenward, the chief executive of ABF Sugar, which – alongside other products – produces a “non-psychoactive variety of cannabis” that is “specially cultivated for medical purposes”. According to ABF Sugar’s website, this is the active ingredient in the cannabidiol Epidyolex/Epidiolex, which is used as a treatment for epilepsy in children.


The Home Office told the BBC in 2018 that ABF Sugar had been granted a licence for this purpose two years earlier. It followed accusations of “hypocrisy on a grand scale” levelled against Ms Atkins over her husband’s involvement with the company while she was drugs minister.


At the time, the Home Office noted that she had declared this link, as well as having “voluntarily excused herself from policy of decisions relating to cannabis, including licensing”.


Ms Atkins is an advocate for people living with type one diabetes. She was diagnosed with diabetes when she was three. 


According to the biography on her website, Ms Atkins read law at Cambridge University, and practised as a criminal barrister, specialising in prosecuting serious organised crime. 


In her spare time, she likes “running around after our son, Monty, building sandcastles on the beautiful Lincolnshire coastline and pulling our boots on to walk the Wolds”.

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