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General election: The pharmacist vs the Tory GP grandee

PillTime’s Sadik Al-Hassan, the Labour Party candidate for North Somerset, will “fight for every vote” in a close-fought battle for the seat, he exclusively told C+D.

Pharmacist and prospective Labour MP Sadik Al-Hassan told C+D that it will take “a concerted effort and tactical voting” if he is to be sure to triumph over his Tory grandee rival, Sir Liam Fox.

“I'm ready to fight this campaign and fight for the future of North Somerset,” he said in an exclusive interview last week (May 28).

Al-Hassan told C+D that he decided to stand as Labour’s candidate for North Somerset against Sir Liam after he saw how its communities have “suffered” after 14 years of Tory party rule.

Read more: C+D election tracker: How will pharmacy vote at the July 4 general election?

“Not always is it the people who work hard who get rewarded,” he said. 

Al-Hassan added that he is committed to making “society fairer”, so that the people of North Somerset have the “opportunity to thrive”.

“I’m standing in politics because I believe in serving local communities and making a difference,” he said.

 

GP opponent “can't be trusted”

 

Al-Hassan – who was a councillor for nearly six years and deputy mayor for three - has few kind words for his opponent, Sir Liam.

He told C+D that GP Sir Liam “can’t be trusted” after a 2009 expenses scandal and a 2011 “national security” scandal that saw Sir Liam resign as defence secretary.

The North Somerset Labour party’s website devotes a section to Sir Liam’s conduct as MP.

Read more: General election: CPE ‘deeply concerned’ over prospect of further contract delays

And Al-Hassan said that Sir Liam should “be ashamed” of denying that there were any problems with the NHS in a recent interview.

Sir Liam might well be worried by Al-Hassan’s challenge, with a March Survation and Best for Britain poll placing Labour ahead in the constituency he has held for the last 32 years, over eight elections. 

Faced with his challenge, Al-Hassan said that Sir Liam has had to go “begging” for £80,000 from the Conservative Party in an attempt “to buy the election”. 

Read more: Teenagers could deliver prescriptions under Tory national service plans

While he won’t be able to raise “anywhere near that”, Al-Hassan is confident that the electorate will see “the truth of the matter that five more years of Liam Fox will be bad for North Somerset”.

Responding to Al-Hassan’s comments, a North Somerset Conservative spokesperson told C+D on Sunday (June 2) that it is “notable that the Bristol-based Mr Al-Hassan has nothing more than personal attacks to offer the people of North Somerset”.

“Perhaps that is inevitable when he is up against Sir Liam who has over 30 years of community involvement there,” they added.

 

Countdown to victory?

 

But even with some promising polling, Al-Hassan refuses to be complacent.

He told C+D that to win the election he will need “all the help [he] can get” from Labour voters, as well as “tactical” votes from Liberal Democrat, Green, independent or “previously Conservative” supporters in North Somerset.

He said he will be hitting the doorsteps, ready to state his case and “fight for every vote”.

Read more: AIMp CEO Dr Leyla Hannbeck to stand as MP in next general election

And as the countdown to the general election began, Al-Hassan last week (May 27) learned that he could rely on Carol Voderman’s help to dislodge the “embattled” Sir Liam.

“The election will be closer than you can possibly think,” he said. 

 

“Strong advocate” for pharmacy

 

Al-Hassan is a well-known face in the community pharmacy sector as the superintendent pharmacist for PillTime, the fourth largest pharmacy in the country by volume following the merger of Pharmacy2U and LloydsDirect.

In 2019, the Bristol Well Pharmacy he managed at the time won Pharmacy Team of the Year at the C+D awards for a prescient GP referral pilot.

Read more: Xrayser: Will a community pharmacist running in the General Election backfire on our sector?

And Al-Hassan sees a close connection between his 20-year career as a pharmacist and the kind of MP that he would be in North Somerset. “It is not a job where I make things better for myself, it is a job where I make things better for the communities I serve,” he told C+D.

“That's the job as a pharmacist, and that's the job as an MP,” he said.

Al-Hassan describes himself as a “strong advocate” for community pharmacy and the NHS.

Read more: Wes Streeting: What could a Labour government mean for pharmacy?

As he “worked on the front line” during the COVID-19 pandemic “fighting to make sure that the community got the medicines and health support they needed”, he saw the “fantastic” work done by NHS workers first hand.

Now, as a senior leader in a major healthcare company leading “a team of 75”, he told C+D that he has developed “a national expertise in pharmacy and healthcare” that he would bring to the benches.

 

Pharmacy in peril

 

Al-Hassan is confident that the sector would be taken seriously by a Labour government.

He said that shadow health secretary Wes Streeting has “shown his support for community pharmacy” and that it is “great value for money” for the public.

But Al-Hassan is concerned that the government is “killing off pharmacy” in rural areas and even in towns like Portishead in North Somerset, noting the strain that community pharmacies in the town have taken after a Boots shut its doors.

Read more: Wes Streeting: Pharmacies to host clinical trials under Labour plans

Pharmacy “solves a lot of problems and prevents GP appointments'', Al-Hassan said. But he added that the “funding crunch” has meant that there are fewer pharmacies around to provide these solutions.

And he is not convinced that current funding arrangements, including for Pharmacy First, are good value for pharmacies.

“It would be good if pharmacies got paid for the activity they did and didn't do work for free,” he said. “But that's with my pharmacist hat on so I'm biased,” he added wryly.

 

North Somerset blues

 

While Al-Hassan is a clearly passionate advocate for pharmacy, “the people of North Somerset come first”.

He said that “door after door”, the biggest issues for voters in the constituency are the NHS and the economy. 

The biggest challenge facing a potential Labour government is that “there are so many broken parts of our system and our society”, Al-Hassan told C+D.

Read more: Sector welcomes Labour’s promise of ‘greater role’ for pharmacy

The Conservative Party’s “absolutely bonkers idea of how economics works” has badly damaged the economy, he added.

He said that the austerity “ideology” led to funding cuts to national systems of prevention and intervention, leading the government to pay for people’s hospital treatment rather than “help them lead independent lives”.

Faced with this fractured state, Al-Hassan told C+D a Labour government would “bring dignity back” to people in the UK, because fundamentally, that is what this election is all about. 

“Politics should be about serving people," he said. "And it should be about the people you serve."

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