The health secretary Matt Hancock has suggested that 20 million GP appointments could be referred to community pharmacies each year, as more clinical services begin to take place in pharmacies post Covid-19.

He said that there was ‘much more’ pharmacy could do when it came to clinical services in order to ‘reduce pressures on other parts of the health and social care system’ in an address at the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) conference today (13 July).

He said: ‘For example, I'm keen to see people with minor illnesses referred to community pharmacy to take pressure off GPs and, crucially, deliver a better service.

‘Some of these new rollouts of these clinical services have been paused due to Covid-19. But take the commitment from me that pause is temporary and is for a short period as possible.

‘I look forward to the continued rollout of more and more clinical services with the goal that all pharmacists should be operating at the top of their qualifications at the top of their licence.’

He said: ‘We're currently planning in detail for winter and we're expecting high demand, and pharmacies will play a critical role.

In preparation for ‘the biggest flu vaccination programme in history’, the health secretary said he wanted to ‘see pharmacies involved in the flu vaccine rollout’.

‘You have an incredibly important role to play’ he said. ‘Frankly, we’re going to need to use all of the capabilities that are at our disposal to deliver the vaccine programmes in the months ahead.’

This has come following the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) call for additional flexibilities from government bodies for contractors to provide flu vaccinations in off-provision sites during the 2020/2021 flu season.

The Department of Health has not confirmed a widespread flu immunisation programme. However, last month it sent a letter to community pharmacies and general practices in England to say the government considerations for expanding the eligibility criteria for NHS-funded flu vaccinations were ‘underway’.

Last month, the Pharmacist reported that pharmaceutical manufacturers may not be able to meet all increased demand for flu vaccines this year, during an unprecedented demand for the vaccine worldwide.

Mr Hancock also made note of the sector's potential role in the nationwide Covid-19 immunisation programme, if a vaccine is found.

He also thanked the sector for the work they had done throughout the peak of the pandemic: 'We value the work that you do.

'And for those who didn't understand the importance of community pharmacy, before the crisis, by how you worked by how you stayed open, back how you serve your community in the midst of the peak of the crisis, you have done your duty, and you've stepped up to the plate.

'And for that, on behalf of all the communities you serve, I want to say thank you.'