Pharmacy bodies have welcomed the new minister in charge of the profession amid warnings that he will find the sector in a state that is “more fragile that ever” due to “untenable funding and workforce pressures”.
Neil O’Brien was re-appointed as parliamentary under secretary of state in the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) on October 25 and was later assigned the pharmacy brief.
The Conservative MP for Harborough — who will have a wide-ranging portfolio of responsibilities, including primary care and pharmacy — has taken over the position from Will Quince MP, who had a brief stint as pharmacy minister but remains at the department on a different role.
O’Brien was was handed a junior minister’s job at DHSC on 7 September 2022 in the government led by Liz Truss but fellow Conservative Quince was assigned primary care duties including pharmacy.
Welcoming him to his new role, The Company Chemists’ Association said that the minister would find that the community pharmacy sector was “more fragile than ever” with untenable pressures over funding and workforce.
The CCA CEO Malcolm Harrison said: “The government must recognize that a real-terms cut in funding across the last eight years is leading to an increasing rate of permanent pharmacy closures. Our own research finds that 41 per cent of permanent closures since 2015 have occurred in the 20 per cent most deprived areas of England.
“The NHS must endeavor to put patients back in control. As such, a holistic review of primary care is urgently needed. This will ensure that resources are directed to where they deliver the most benefit to patients. Such a review must be underpinned by a fully funded and integrated workforce plan, as recommended by the Health and Social Care Committee”.
Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said: “We welcome the appointment of Neil O’Brien MP and hope for a more stable and sustained period in administration. We are ready and willing to support minister O’Brien at a challenging and pivotal time for the NHS and community pharmacy.”
Chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, Janet Morrison, said: “We look forward to meeting with him at the earliest opportunity to continue our vital discussions on the very serious challenges facing the sector. We will also want to explore further the very valuable wider role that community pharmacy could play within primary care, with the right funding settlement and support.’’
Who is Neil O’Brien?
Mr O’Brien has been the Conservative MP for the West Midlands constituency since 2017 and was previously a special advisor to chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne from 2012 to 2016, and Theresa May during her tenure as prime minister.
He grew up in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, where he was educated at All Saints High School and Greenhead College, before taking a first in philosophy, politics and economics at Christ Church, Oxford.
Prior to entering politics, Mr O’Brien conducted outreach work with homeless people and was a chair of school governors. He co-founded the think tank Onward.
Mr O’Brien lives in his Harborough constituency, and is married with two children.
According to government announcement, Mr O’Brien will have the following responsibilities as parliamentary under secretary of state at DHSC:
- Primary Care:
primary care backlogs
primary care workforce
50 million GP appointments
Blood, transplant and organs
- UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA):
COVID-19 – COVID-19 status certification, variant tracing, shielding
environmental health (air quality, chemicals, radiation)
health security at the border
infectious diseases (including monkeypox)
COVID-19 vaccine deployment and uptake
routine immunisations and vaccinations
- Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID):
alcohol, drugs and addiction
NHS Health Checks
children’s health, Start for Life
antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and global health security
emergency preparedness including Ukraine
- Sponsorship of:
NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT)
Food Standards Agency (FSA)