Steve Barclay has said that he is ‘looking at how we can progress Pharmacy First’, as part of a plan to reduce pressure on general practice.

Speaking today at the NHS Providers conference, the health and social care secretary said: ‘We’ll be looking at the skills mix in primary care, creating more appointments for patients, rolling out the extra phone lines, looking at how we can progress Pharmacy First.’

The Department of Health and Social Care knows ‘there is no single solution’ to GP access, but that it ‘will be looking to ensure we have a wider workforce for primary care’, he said.

GP access is a ‘key priority’ and was a ‘key component’ of his predecessor Therese Coffey’s Plan for Patients, as 90% of people’s experience is through primary care, he added.

Mr Barclay also told delegates that supporting the NHS workforce would be his first priority, followed by the recovery plan, and added that his department was ‘very focused on mental health’.

Calling the notion that he does not think the NHS needs more money ‘incorrect, he said the Chancellor’s autumn statement tomorrow would demonstrate his commitment to these priorities and he had worked with the Chancellor to shape the context of the statement.

Mr Barclay also vowed to highlight the impact of health inequalities on economic growth, saying that this could help make the case for more NHS funding to the treasury.

Assuring delegates ‘that the challenges that you are facing are uppermost in the thinking of this government’, he also promised to give NHS challenges visibility in government discussions.

He also said that he was a ‘champion of NHS staff who raised issues of patient safety’ and that ‘listening to and learning from NHS staff is critical to improving outcomes for patients’.

Mr Barclay was previously involved with discussions around developing a ‘Pharmacy First’ service in England that would see community pharmacists paid by the NHS to deliver patient consultations.

When Mr Barclay was re-appointed as health and social care secretary in October, pharmacy bodies called for him to realise those plans.

At the time, Mark Lyonette, chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association, said that ‘the same logic that led all recent health secretaries to talk about a ‘pharmacy first’ approach to primary care still applies today’, calling for investment in community pharmacy to deliver the service.

Meanwhile Thorrun Govind, RPS England country board chair, urged the minister ‘to support a more ambitious approach to advancing the clinical role of pharmacists across the NHS, including through a ‘Pharmacy First’ approach in England’.