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PDA welcomes Victoria Atkins MP as Health and Social Care Secretary

The PDA welcomes a new Health & Social Care Secretary, but notes with concern this is now the fifth appointment into the role since Matt Hancock resigned in June 2021.

Tue 14th November 2023 The PDA

As the Secretary of State responsible for NHS England and wider health policy, Victoria Atkins now has an extremely important job and opportunities to address many critical issues for the benefit of patients and the health sector. 

Pharmacists stand ready to fully utilise their professional skills and expertise to see more patients for a range of currently unmet needs and to divert some of the pressures currently being experienced across the health service, including in general practice. Pharmacists could be better utilised across all parts of the health sector and their careers and working environments improved, such as more time for professional development and assured levels of staffing.

The PDA also wants to see greater value placed on the community pharmacy sector and those who work in it. The PDA would welcome the new Secretary of State emphasising the importance of community pharmacy as a healthcare setting in the heart of each community and not thinking of them as retail outlets for wholesalers.

During this parliament, the appointments to this role have averaged less than a year and as a general election is due no later than January 2025, this appointment is also likely to be for a similar duration. With every new appointment into this role, there is inevitably a period where the new Secretary of State must familiarise themselves with their responsibilities and the sector, so developing that understanding must start over again. This constant resetting is unhelpful and the health service deserves more stability.

Issues for the Health Secretary include:

  • What lessons will be learned from how the Covid-19 pandemic was managed, as now being laid bare in the inquiry, and what still needs to be done?
  • How will the government seek to address the stark health inequalities that currently impact some population groups and communities?
  • How will the NHS create the right opportunities for patient care once there are more pharmacist prescribers?
  • What action will be taken on the funding levels in the community pharmacy contract?
  • Will the government be ambitious enough to look to community pharmacy to respond to the post-pandemic wider health challenges including prevention by utilising its full potential?

Health is a devolved function, and so the Secretary of State only has direct responsibility for England.  The PDA engages with the NHS, civil servants, and ministers across each of the UK nations on an ongoing basis to progress the above and many more issues that matter to pharmacists.

As part of the ministerial restructure, Neil O’Brien has also resigned from his position as Pharmacy Minister and the PDA will be contacting the new minister in due course.

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