Resigning as pharmacy minister might just be the best thing Steve Brine has ever done for the sector


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By Beth Kennedy
Editor-in-chief

26 Mar 2019

Steve Brine was right to quit the Government to vote in favour of the Letwin Amendment, but what else has he done for pharmacy, asks The Pharmacist’s editor-in-chief Beth Kennedy

Well, there we go, chaps. Another pharmacy minister has bitten the dust.

That’s right, Steve Brine – who was made public health minister in June 2017 – has thrown in the towel over Brexit. Mr Brine stepped down last night (25 March) so he could vote in favour of MPs taking more control of the Brexit process, with a number of ‘indicative votes’ on a variety of withdrawal options to be voted on in the Commons this week.

In his resignation letter to Theresa May, he said that voting for this, known as the Letwin Amendment, was the ‘honourable thing’ to do to try and avoid a disastrous no-deal Brexit.

Looking back over Mr Brine’s rather brief stint as pharmacy minister, I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t the best thing he’s done for the sector during that time.

For, while he was not the minister under whose tenure 2016’s devastating funding cuts fell, neither did the sector manage to secure a better contract in October last year with him at the helm. The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee’s (PSNC) chief executive Simon Dukes marked Mr Brine’s resignation by recognising his ‘central role’ in mending the fractious relationship between the negotiator and the Government after a long legal battle fighting over the cuts.

But however true that may be, I’m not sure that helping PSNC agree pretty much exactly the same (bad) funding deal with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) as 2016’s disastrous contract exactly marks him out as pharmacy’s great champion.

You could, of course, argue that Mr Brine was instrumental in finally forcing through legislation that provided community pharmacists with a legal defence for inadvertent dispensing errors, which he promised pharmacists would happen on his watch in September 2017 and was promptly agreed by Parliament by December of that year.

Again, though, I remain unconvinced. After all, the legislation had been on the table for some years before Mr Brine came on the scene and the cynic in me can’t help but wonder if he promised pharmacists a victory he thought he could easily win early on in his tenure to get the sector onside.

But by voting for the Letwin Amendment last night and hopefully pulling Britain away from a no-deal precipice, Mr Brine has arguably taken more of a stand for pharmacists – not to mention patients – than he did in almost two years as pharmacy minister.

For by now, anyone who works in healthcare is well aware of the dangerous effects a no-deal Brexit is predicted to have on medicines supplies. And as pharmacists know all-too well, the UK’s supply chain simply can’t afford to take any more of a hit.

In commenting on Mr Brine’s resignation, both PSNC and the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) looked to the future, urging for a more ‘collaborative’ relationship with his successor. Whoever that may be, I for one hope that they have the guts to fight pharmacy’s corner from the beginning of their time in post, rather than showing us their true ‘honourable’ colours only when they decide it’s time to bow out.


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