Theresa May’s divisive Brexit strategy claimed another political casualty last night – this time in the form of the pharmacy minister.
Since being appointed in June 2017, Steve Brine quickly set himself apart with bold, positive statements about the sector, including stating to C+D that pharmacy deserves “fair and sustainable” funding.
That’s not to say Mr Brine’s rhetoric was always matched by his actions. If his saving grace was to have been two steps removed from his government’s original sin of slashing pharmacy funding in England, his legacy will be to have overseen the extension of these cuts over two years – causing multiples to shrink and pushing some independents to the brink of bankruptcy.
This duality was reflected in an all-party pharmacy group meeting attended by Mr Brine four months into his tenure, which I sat in on. Coming days after the news that Lloydspharmacy would divest around 190 branches to cope with the funding cuts, Mr Brine seemed engaged with the meeting itself, but detached from any sense of the government’s responsibility for the multiple’s move, branding it a “commercial decision”.
Unfortunately, despite repeated requests that lasted up until yesterday, he never found the time to sit down with C+D for a full interview, depriving us of a vital chance to hear about his strategy for the sector in any detail.
If his successor is a fan of quick political wins (is there a politician who isn’t?), they will see the current pharmacy funding negotiations as a chance to get a hugely valuable army of healthcare professionals on their side, as well as make their mark on a national health strategy that so far has been dominated by NHS England’s focus on GPs.
If not, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee’s plans for a five-year, services-focused contract, and the long-term viability of thousands of pharmacies across England, could become yet another victim of the Brexit chaos.