The health sector can be a source of economic growth rather than government expenditure,  according to new health and social care secretary Wes Streeting.

Speaking at an event for the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, Mr Streeting said his ambition was to ‘end the begging bowl culture’ where the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) ‘only ever goes to the Treasury to ask for more money’.

According to the DHSC, 2.8 million people are inactive due to long-term sickness, and Mr Streeting said ‘billions of pounds of economic growth’ could be delivered by cutting waiting times and improving public health.

The government will use the NHS and social care’s role as local and regional anchor institutions as ‘engines of economic growth’, he added. This would be achieved by providing training and job opportunities to local people across the country, the health secretary insisted.

Mr Streeting also pledged to make the UK ‘a life sciences and medical technology powerhouse’.

He said: ‘If we can combine the care of the NHS and the genius of our country’s leading scientific minds, we can develop modern treatments for patients and help get Britain’s economy booming.

‘The NHS and social care are the biggest employers in most parts of our country. They should be engines of economic growth, giving opportunities in training and work to local people, as well as providing public services.’

In a recent joint letter to the health and social care secretary, Community Pharmacy England (CPE), the Company Chemists’ Association, the Independent Pharmacies Association, the National Pharmacy Association and the Royal Pharmaceutical Association called for investment to help the sector solve the nation’s healthcare challenges.

The letter, signed by the chief executives of the respective bodies, said community pharmacy could help address the issue of waiting times for GP and hospital appointments with ‘urgent fair funding’, along with an expansion of Pharmacy First, medicine supply chain reform and workforce planning.

Today, Janet Morrison, chief executive of CPE, said: ‘A refocussing of healthcare towards public health and prevention is not only critical for the future of the NHS, but is also where community pharmacy excels.

‘The community pharmacy network can – and already does – provide easily accessible healthcare support to the public, and could be enabled to do more.’

She noted the letter that had been sent by the pharmacy bodies and said she was ‘ready to take forward discussions on the future’ and that pharmacy ‘needs answers on the contractual framework for this year’.

A version of this article first appeared on our sister publication Nursing in Practice