Jo Churchill MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Prevention, Public Health and Primary Care.

The new pharmacy minister, Jo Churchill, calls herself a great supporter of the ‘pharmacy-first culture’ in which pharmacies become the first point of call for minor ailments. This sits well within the scope of the government’s push to integrate community pharmacy into local NHS urgent care pathways.

Two years ago, during a Westminster Hall debate in Parliament, she highlighted the role of local pharmacies and their potential to drive forward integrated healthcare throughout the NHS. She called for special attention to be paid to community pharmacies.

“Integration throughout the whole of the NHS is vital, so that everybody knows what everybody else is doing and so that there are seamless pathways that everybody knows how to follow. That will ultimately give us benefits not only in pharmacies, but right across the NHS.”

Although Ms Churchill voted for the imposition of community pharmacy funding cuts in 2016, she reasoned, during the same debate, that it was “about the whole system and making efficiencies”. She argued:

“We need a 2017 solution to the challenges of a larger population, an ageing population and so on. Pharmacists must play their part in that,” and went on to acknowledge that pharmacists “are really keen to step up and deliver more for the Government and more for the patients and people in their communities.”

First elected as a Member of Parliament and as the first female representative for Bury St Edmunds in 2015, Ms Churchill was re-elected in 2017. She represented the constituency as a member of several influential public bodies, including Cancer All-Party Parliamentary Group and Breast Cancer All-Party Parliamentary Group, serving both as vice-chair.

In July 2016, she was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to Mike Penning MP, who was minister of state for Armed Forces. A year later, she became the PPS to Jeremy Hunt MP, the then Secretary of State for the Department of Health. Last year, she was made an assistant whip in the government of Theresa May.

Born in 1964, Ms Churchill grew up in East Anglia. She lived and worked in the rural county of Lincolnshire with her husband and four daughters before moving to Suffolk two years ago. She holds first-class degrees at both BSc and MSc levels. A second bout of cancer meant that she had to put her research for a PhD at the University of Nottingham on hold.

In her website, the cancer survivor wrote: “My personal experience of the services and support available to patients, led to my involvement with Breakthrough, the Breast Cancer charity.”

The Conservative MP for Bury St Edmunds was assigned the Pharmacy portfolio on Aug 13, a fortnight after she joined Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Public Health and Primary Care.

Commenting after her appointment, Ms Churchill told Pharmacy Business: “Pharmacies play an integral role in delivering high-quality care to patients up and down the country. I’m thrilled to be overseeing this valued part of the NHS family, which will be crucial to realising the ambitions in our Long Term Plan.

“An important first step in my tenure as Minister will be to make sure the role of clinical pharmacists is expanded in line with the new Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework. I look forward to working with the sector to find solutions to the challenges facing our community pharmacists and to hear more about the exciting innovations taking place.”

Reacting to the minister’s appointment, Chair of RPS in England, Claire Anderson, said: “We look forward to working with the new Minister and have written to her about how the pharmacy profession will be central to helping the NHS get the best value from medicines, improve patient safety, and reduce pressure on other parts of the health service.

“We will continue making the case that successfully delivering the NHS Long-Term Plan will now need investment in education and training to develop an adaptable and flexible workforce for the future.

“With the NHS People Plan aiming to make the NHS ‘the best place to work’, we hope that she builds on her predecessors’ recognition of the vital importance of supporting the health and wellbeing of pharmacists so that they can continue to provide safe and effective care.“

For his part, PSNC Chief Executive Simon Dukes said: “We look forward to meeting her at the earliest opportunity and to continuing to work collaboratively with both her and the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that community pharmacies can contribute fully to the delivery of the NHS Long Term Plan.

“There is much to do to put the recently announced five-year Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework into practice and we will ensure that Ms Churchill is fully briefed on both the challenges ahead for community pharmacies and the vital and valuable roles they play in their local communities.”

Jo Churchill’s official job title has been changed to include ‘Prevention’, perhaps reinforcing the government’s vision for putting prevention at the heart of the nation’s health agenda.

Her predecessor, Seema Kennedy MP, has been moved to the Home Office.

This article also appears in the September issue of Pharmacy Business.

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