Pharmacy leaders have welcomed the appointment of former pharmacy minister Steve Brine as the new chair of the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee.

His appointment follows the departure of Jeremy Hunt as chair, a role he had held since January 2020, after he became Chancellor last month.

During his 12 years as an MP,  Mr Brine has had several roles within health, including as minister for public health and primary care, where he had responsibility for community pharmacy.

He has also worked as parliamentary private secretary to Mr Hunt when the latter was secretary of state for health.

Mr Brine resigned from his post as minister for public health and primary care in 2019, over the Government’s handling of Brexit.

A ‘pharmacy advocate’

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp). said Mr Brine’s ‘passion and belief in the value of community pharmacy has been evident for everyone to see’, after she worked with him in the past on ‘a number of pharmacy fronts’.

‘He sees the potential with our sector and I am sure that his appointment will be receptive to our credentials in meeting some of the huge challenges facing the NHS,’ she added.

Paul Day, director of the Pharmacists’ Defence Association said: ‘Pharmacy has not always been at the centre of politician’s thinking when it comes to the wider health sector, but Steve Brine is someone who retained an interest in pharmacy after his tenure as pharmacy minister ended.’

He added that the PDA hope that as chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee, Mr Brine will ‘ensure that the contribution pharmacists can make across the NHS and wider health system in England is fully considered’.

Zoe Long, PSNC’s director of communications and public affairs, said that PSNC was ‘delighted to see a pharmacy advocate taking the helm’ of the committee’.

She continued: ‘Steve has always been a vocal supporter of community pharmacy and we’re looking forward to continuing to work with him, as well as to engaging with other committee members. The committee has its work cut out given the many challenges facing the NHS, but we are delighted to see a pharmacy advocate taking the helm and will support their work in any way that we can.’

Focus on mental health

In his candidate statement, Mr Brine said that Thérèse Coffey, who was health minister for a brief period under Liz Truss, was right to identify her ABCD – ambulances, Covid backlogs, social care, and doctors and dentists – list of NHS priorities, but said he would add M for mental health.

Following a rise in mental ill health during the Covid-19 pandemic, National Pharmacy Association chair Andrew Lane said that community pharmacists ‘are well placed to spot mental health issues’, while the Royal Pharmaceutical Society called for training to equip pharmacists to take on greater role in mental health care.

In March, Health Education England (HEE) launched a new pilot scheme that will train hundreds of community pharmacists to optimise medicines and help care for people with severe mental health conditions.

Focus on preventative healthcare, cancer and workforce

Mr Brine also said that he wanted to help the government ‘get better value for the vast sums we spend on health’, saying that his own priorities would be prevention, cancer and workforce.

He said that he was ‘passionate about preventative healthcare which I believe is absolutely the right approach to the NHS and leads us to many of the issues around health inequalities which concern us all.’

In March, new pharmacy minister Neil O’Brien said that preventative healthcare was ‘central to levelling up’, and called for ‘imaginative solutions’ for public health.

Many community pharmacies deliver preventative healthcare services like the NHS England advanced smoking cessation serviceNHS blood pressure checks and weight loss clinics.

Gareth Jones, Director of Corporate Affairs at the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) said that as pharmacy minister Mr Brine 'was a strong advocate for community pharmacy’s role in preventative care.'

He added: 'The health and social care select committee has an important role in examining government policy and to have Steve Brine as its chair is undoubtedly a plus.'

Mr Brine also described workforce as ‘the Achilles heel’ of the National Health Service, saying that the committee needed to work with the Treasury to ‘finally deliver that independent health workforce assessment’.

Malcolm Harrison, CEO of the Company Chemists' Association (CCA) said that 'the committee must examine, without haste, the growing crisis within community pharmacies as inadequate funding and workforce shortages continue to detrimentally affect the sector and its patients.'

He added that the committee recently backed the CCA's call for a workforce plan for pharmacy and said that he looked forward to working with Mr Brine, who 'brings a wealth of experience and knowledge of community pharmacy', 'to ensure that the value of community pharmacy to patients is fully understood by Government'.

Thorrun Govind, England Country Board Chair at RPS, said that she 'welcomed the select committee’s call for a pharmacy workforce plan in July' and hopes that it 'continues to support our hard-working frontline staff.'

'With pressures on public finances, the select committee will play a key role in scrutinising health policy and ensuring patients get the care they need,' she said.

The interim chief executive at NHS Providers, the membership organisation for NHS hospital, mental health, community and ambulance services, Saffron Cordery, said that NHS staff were working ‘flat-out in the face of mounting challenges ahead of what is set to be the toughest winter on record’. She added that in this context, ‘the select committee’s work will be more crucial than ever in scrutinising government decisions on policy, spending and administration.

‘We hope the committee under the leadership of Mr Brine offers a sustained focus on key areas including patient safety, mental health, workforce and social care, which are critical to ensuring trusts can deliver high-quality patient care.

‘Additionally, attention should be given to NHS finances and the lack of capital investment, which is seriously impacting trusts across the country, as well as the cost-of-living crisis and its devastating impact on trusts, staff and local communities, and health inequalities, which were made even worse by the pandemic.’

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