Health secretary Steve Barclay outlined his commitment to investing in technology, preventing ill health, and supporting innovation such as personalised medicines in a speech at the NHS Confed Expo today.

This comes as the NHS mandate, which sets out the government’s asks of the NHS, was published today.

It outlined three key priorities: cutting waiting lists and recovering performance; supporting the workforce; and using data and technology.


Mr Barclay told NHS Confed Expo delegates that ‘when budgets are tight, tech is often the first thing to go’, but said: ‘That is not my approach.’

He added that he did not care about ‘tech for tech’s sake’ but because technology ‘improves outcomes’ and helps staff to do their jobs.

‘I am protecting the tech budget and those key investments that will help us in the long term,’ he said.

In particular, he vowed to ensure that every NHS trust uses electronic patient records, and would ‘digitise the frontline, from speeding up staff logins, to staff passports’.

‘I'm acutely aware that when it comes to tech, it is often how we make the job of local teams easier,’ he said.

Pharmacy services

The health secretary also said that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) was working to combine the recent investment in Pharmacy First and the Pharmacy Contraception Service with work being done on the NHS app.

The government’s mandate to the NHS also directs NHS England (NHSE) to develop and deliver the service specifications and patient group directions for the common conditions service in community pharmacy, as well as the necessary underpinning IT improvements.

And it added that NHSE should ‘support the DHSC in negotiating funding arrangements with the sector’, as well as driving take up and delivery of the common condition service and the expansion of the community pharmacy blood pressure and contraception services.

Preventing ill-health

The recent Hewitt review recommended that the share of NHS budgets at ICS level spent on prevention should be increased by at least 1% over the next five years.

But the government said that while it agreed that ‘over time the focus for the NHS should increasingly shift towards implementing evidence-based interventions to help improve prevention and support healthier life expectancy’, it did not agree with ‘imposing a national expectation of an essentially arbitrary shift in spending’.

And it said that NHSE and DHSC would work with ICSs, local government partners and NICE to develop guidelines for preventative healthcare spending.

In today’s speech at the conference, Mr Barclay described prevention as the ‘most exciting area’ of healthcare, and said that rather than having ‘tired debates’ about what should be banned, he wanted to empower adults to make decisions about their health.

He highlighted the importance of encouraging people to get involved with clinical trials as well as the possibility of partnering with employers and other points of contact with patients, such as supermarkets.

And he said that innovations in home testing and early testing would enable earlier treatment, delivering better patient outcomes and saving the NHS money.

Personalised medicines

The health secretary also highlighted the opportunity provided by innovation in life sciences, including the advent of more bespoke and targeted medicines.

In particular, he earmarked the role that pharmacogenomics could play in combating antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

‘If we can identify what the right antibiotic is firsthand, that is hugely beneficial to the patient, that is also very beneficial for AMR and also for cost,’ he said.


The NHS Mandate said that the imminent workforce plan – which Mr Barclay joked today had an ‘eight or nine’ in ten chance of arriving before the 75th anniversary of the NHS next month – will set out actions ‘to put the NHS workforce on a sustainable footing and ensure that it has the workforce to meet the changing needs of patients over the next 15 years’.

And it said that, working with DHSC, ICBs and other partners, NHSE should lead implementation of the actions set out in the workforce plan.

Workforce was a key focus of the Hewitt review, which the government responded to yesterday.

But community pharmacy leaders expressed their disappointment that the government’s response did not explicitly address workforce challenges facing the pharmacy sector, and said that the upcoming workforce plan would need to specifically include the issue of pharmacist shortages across primary care.