The new health and social care secretary has used her first speech in post to highlight the importance of general practice and pharmacy working together, alongside other settings, to help create 'strong and integrated’ care across England.

Speaking at the NHS Providers conference today, Victoria Atkins also said that delivering the Urgent and Emergency Care Recovery Plan for winter would be her ‘number one priority’.

And she highlighted the government’s long-term workforce and other recovery plans.

Ms Atkins recognised there was ‘a lot of work to do’ to ensure the health service was ‘in fighting fit form for our children and our grandchildren’.

In addition, she said that building on government reforms to ‘create strong and integrated care systems across England’ would be ‘a shared endeavour’, she added.

‘And it will require all of us to work in partnership. Across our acute hospitals, mental health, community, general practice, and pharmacy,’ Ms Atkins told the conference.

While stressing the coming winter ‘will be challenging’, she told delegates: ‘I know that rising to such challenges is what you all do so well.’

‘You’ve overcome a once in a generation pandemic. You’ve tackled the longest waits for care it left behind. And you’re delivering reforms that will give patients more choice and control over their care,’ she added.

In addition, she noted that ‘clear recovery plans’, ‘financial certainty for the rest of the year’ and ‘the first-ever, fully funded, reform-focused, long-term workforce plan’ were in place.

Ms Atkins also committed to ‘getting around the table’ regarding NHS staff industrial action, saying: ‘I want to see a fair and reasonable resolution.’

The new health secretary’s appointment this week has been welcomed by pharmacy leaders, with Community Pharmacy England (CPE) commenting that Ms Atkins is ‘well briefed’ on community pharmacy.

And the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) said Ms Atkins ‘now has an extremely important job and opportunities to address many critical issues for the benefit of patients and the health sector’.

But it noted that the turnover of health secretaries on a nearly annual basis was ‘unhelpful’, saying that the health service ‘deserves more stability’.

In a statement published yesterday, the PDA said that pharmacists ‘stand ready to fully utilise their professional skills and expertise to see more patients for a range of currently unmet needs and to divert some of the pressures currently being experienced across the health service’.

The association added that pharmacists ‘could be better utilised across all parts of the health sector’.

And it noted that pharmacist careers and working environments could be improved, for instance by being provided with time for professional development and ‘assured levels of staffing’.

The PDA also called for ‘greater value’ to be ‘placed on the community pharmacy sector and those who work in it.’

‘The PDA would welcome the new secretary of state emphasising the importance of community pharmacy as a healthcare setting in the heart of each community and not thinking of them as retail outlets for wholesalers,’ it added.

But it warned: ‘During this parliament, the appointments to this role have averaged less than a year and as a general election is due no later than January 2025, this appointment is also likely to be for a similar duration.

‘With every new appointment into this role, there is inevitably a period where the new secretary of state must familiarise themselves with their responsibilities and the sector, so developing that understanding must start over again.

‘This constant resetting is unhelpful and the health service deserves more stability.’