New health secretary Victoria Atkins, joining health for the first time, has been welcomed to her new post by Community Pharmacy England. Anna Colivicchi and Joanna Robertson look in more detail at the Lincolnshire MP's political track record...

Victoria Atkins begins her new role at a tumultuous time for the health sector (and the Government) and will be the seventh health secretary since 2018, succeeding Steve Barclay.

Ms Atkins, who worked as a criminal barrister before standing as an MP, is currently the MP for Louth and Horncastle in Lincolnshire and was previously financial secretary to the Treasury.

What might the new health secretary know about the pharmacy sector?

Community Pharmacy England (CPE) chief executive Janet Morrison said that Ms Atkins was 'well briefed' on community pharmacy, having attended several pharmacy events recently including CPE's drop-in event on the hypertension case-finding service last year.

She also sent a member of her team to the joint Save Our Pharmacies roundtable in March and CPE's drop-in event on medicines market instability in June.

CPE said that it had a 'very constructive relationship' with Ms Atkin's office and hoped to build on this in the coming months.

Ms Morrison also said that Ms Atkins 'joins the Department at a pivotal moment for community pharmacy as we hope to soon be implementing the most significant investment for the sector in over a decade.

'The introduction of a national Pharmacy First service is expected to be a game-changer for the public and the NHS, but it must also be the start of longer-term sustainable funding models for community pharmacy,' Ms Morrison said.

And she added that the negotiator looks forward 'to working constructively with Ms Atkins and her colleagues to secure a sustainable future for community pharmacy that also supports their goals. This includes early discussions on the way forward and the implementation of the Vision for Community Pharmacy.'

And she extended CPE's thanks to the outgoing ministerial team 'for their vote of confidence in community pharmacy as set out in the Delivery Plan for Recovering Access to Primary Care.'

What more do we know about the health secretary?

Before becoming an MP, Ms Atkins specialised in prosecuting serious organised crime.

In a statement on her parliamentary website, she said she hoped to put her experiences in the criminal courts ‘to good use in the political world’.

During a radio interview with LBC in 2018, when she had worked as a junior minister in the Home Office for a few months, she came under fire as she said she couldn’t remember the number of police officers in the country because it ‘had slipped her mind’.

She made the headlines again in the same year when as drugs minister she was accused of ‘hypocrisy on a grand scale’ and of a ‘massive conflict of interest’ over her husband’s involvement in a legal cannabis farm. Her husband Paul Kenward is managing director of British Sugar, which started growing substantial amounts of marijuana in Norfolk, under a licence issued from the Home Office in 2016.

She stepped down from the part of her brief relating to cannabis despite the Home Office stating at the time that Ms Atkins had declared her husband’s business activities when she was appointed, and previously when she was a backbencher.

Nevertheless, in 2019 the Telegraph named her as one of the ‘rising female Tory stars’ set for promotion under Boris Johnson’s leadership.

Professionally, she is one of only 30 advocates in England and Wales appointed to the Attorney General’s Regulators Panel and the Serious Fraud Office’s List of specialist fraud prosecutors.

Ms Atkins said: ‘It was a privilege to represent the decent, law-abiding majority in my work prosecuting hardened criminals.

‘I have prosecuted international drug trafficking rings, gun-runners and fraudsters who steal £100s million from British taxpayers.’

She has said she was one of the first member of her family to go to university, reading law at Cambridge.

However, she has political ‘pedigree’, being the daughter of former Tory MP and MEP Sir Robert Atkins. She was born in London but was raised in Lancashire and went to school in Blackpool.

She has held several positions in Government since she became the MP for Louth and Horncastle in 2015, including minister for women, minister for prisons and probation, and minister for Afghan resettlement.

A version of this article first appeared in our sister publication, Pulse.

Ms Atkins’ voting record on health:
  • Voted for reforming the NHS so GPs buy services on behalf of their patients
  • Has never voted on allowing terminally ill people to be given assistance to end their life

Source: TheyWorkForYou