The former Chancellor Rishi Sunak made much of his family’s pharmacy connections throughout his previous bid to become leader of the Conservative Party. Now, with Mr Sunak as the UK’s next Prime Minister, we take a look at his pharmacy and healthcare track record.

With the cost-of-living crisis hitting the finances of both pharmacies and their patients, as well as questions over what the sector might look like in the future, there is no doubt that the PM in waiting has a full in-tray when it comes to community pharmacy alone.

He must also consider whether to replace current health and social care secretary Thérèse Coffey, who was only appointed last month under current PM Liz Truss.

In the meantime, The Pharmacist looks to the past for clues during his time as Chancellor from February 2020 and July 2022, and when he ran as a candidate to lead the Conservative Party leadership contest this summer, to find out what might come next under Mr Sunak.

  1. He says he understands the concerns of small businesses

Speaking to The Telegraph in July, the then PM-candidate said: ‘[Thatcher] talked about the person at home with their family budget. She talked about that really powerfully. That resonated with me, because that’s how I was brought up.

‘My mum was a small businesswoman, she was a chemist. I worked in my mum’s small chemist in Southampton. I did my mum’s books – that was part of my job. I also did payroll and accounts every week and every month.’

  1. He’s praised pharmacy teams and clinical services

During a March 2022 visit to the opening of Knights Pharmacy in Yorkshire, Mr Sunak said that pharmacists were the ‘responsive, local heartbeat of our healthcare system’, and praised the positive impact the service would have for those currently undiagnosed with blood pressure issues.

Superintendent pharmacist Pete Horrocks said that he was ‘grateful’ that the then-Chancellor had come to open the new premises and that it was ‘really beneficial’ to discuss the challenges facing community pharmacy as well as its success stories.

  1. During the pandemic, pharmacists in Sunak’s constituency protested at the lack of funding for pharmacy

In March 2020, with Mr Sunak as Chancellor, the Government created a Covid-19 Response fund and dedicated an initial £5bn to help the NHS get through the Covid outbreak. And from April to July 2020, community pharmacies received a cumulative £370m in loans.

At the time, Mr Sunak promised that the NHS would get whatever resources it needs to tackle the virus.

But in the July 2020, pay rises for 900,000 public sector workers, including doctors, dentists and teachers in recognition of their ‘vital contribution’ during the Covid pandemic did not include pharmacists, nurses and social care workers.

At the time, RPS president Sandra Gidley said in a letter to Mr Sunak that the pharmacy sector missing out on this pay award was a ‘kick in the teeth for the profession.’

And in March 2021, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee said that pharmacies had incurred costs of over £400m ‘carrying out services for the NHS in a Covid-secure environment’.

‘Community pharmacy contractors must have their costs fully covered and the must not be asked to subsidise the NHS,’ said the then PSNC chief executive, Simon Dukes.

The March 2021 budget did not mention funds for pharmacy, although it did contain business support. Mr Dukes described the budget ‘exasperating and disappointing’ and said it could lead to more pharmacy closures on top of the 200 that closed during the pandemic.

He said that pharmacies had spent their £370m emergency Covid loans on staying open, and they ‘must’ have these costs covered.

Following the budget, pharmacists across Sunak and other ministers’ constituencies protested.

Jonathan Cooper, owner of Coopers Chemists in Sunak’s constituency of Richmond, Yorkshire, said: ‘My pharmacy and many others like it have continued to see patients in the community while other parts of the health system could not offer this vital service.

‘Had community pharmacies not worked so hard to keep their doors open during this national crisis, things would have been far worse. As a result we have incurred massive extra costs and the Government needs to cover this as promised.’

He added: ‘We want to give a message to Mr Sunak: our door is open – please let us keep it that way by reversing these devastating cuts!’

  1. He introduced dedicated funding for the NHS, which was then reversed amid the spiralling cost of living crisis

In September 2021, as Chancellor, Mr Sunak introduced a health and social care levy. In his 2022 Spring budget he said that this would be funded by a 1.25% increase in National Insurance (NI) contributions from April 2022, and described it as a ‘dedicated funding source’ solely for the ‘country’s top priority – the NHS and social care’.

In March, the Treasury doubled the NHS’s annual efficiency target to 2.2%, as part of a series of major cost cuts and a ‘crackdown’ on ‘wasteful spending’.

Mr Sunak said that this would ‘ensure every pound of taxpayer’s money’ spent on the health and social care levy ‘is well spent.’

But on 22 September 2022, the next chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng reversed the 1.25% NI increase and withdrew the health and social care levy. The introduction of a separate health and social care levy tax in April 2023 was also cancelled.

  1. He says a strong economy is important for good public health

In the summer of 2020, Mr Sunak introduced measures to boost the UK economy during the pandemic, including the ‘Eat out to help out’ scheme which incentivised people to eat in restaurants. The scheme was criticised when the a spike in coronavirus cases followed the summer, with then Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggesting that the initiative ‘may have helped to spread the virus’.

Mr Sunak defended the scheme, saying that ministers had to make ‘difficult trade-offs’ during the pandemic and that ‘having a difficult economy has an impact on both our ability to fund public services like the NHS but also on individual people’s long-term health outcomes.’

  1. Will he consider a pharmacy-first approach?

In August, on a visit to the Southampton pharmacy formerly run by his mother, Mr Sunak said he was prepared to reform the NHS and achieve value for money in health spending if he becomes Prime Minister.

However, Mark Lyonette, NPA chief executive, said that if Mr Sunak is ‘serious about NHS reform, he would do well to start with a Pharmacy First approach to prevention and treatment, which has the potential to transform the way people access NHS care'.

He added: ‘That can only happen with a sustained increase in funding for our sector, which is facing much harder times now than it ever did when Mr Sunak’s parents owned a pharmacy years ago.’