Steve Barclay’s political resurrection has seen him go from health and social care secretary under Boris Johnson, to backbencher and back again, returning to the health brief under newly appointed PM Rishi Sunak.

As well as the role of health secretary which he held between July and September this year, he has previously held ministerial roles within the Department of Health and Social Care, the Treasury and the Department for Exiting the European Union.

Now, having been handed a second chance to tackle one of the greatest crises ever faced by the NHS, time will tell whether Mr Barclay will be able to make good on the plans he laid during his first stint in the role.

The Pharmacist takes a look at the new health secretary’s history and policies to see what may be in store for pharmacists.

Barclay on clinical work for pharmacists

The previous health and social care secretary, Therese Coffey, announced a new Plan for Patients outlining her vision for reducing pressure on GPs, which included community pharmacists taking on more clinical work such as the new Contraception Service. Mr Barclay has not yet confirmed whether he shares this vision for the future of community pharmacy.

However, Mr Barclay said in 2018 as health minister that pharmacies played a ‘valuable role’, adding that ‘we want to ensure that rather than people’s first port of call being a GP, they access the NHS and pharmacies at the appropriate time’.

During his previous stint as health secretary this summer, minister for primary care and patient safety Maria Caulfield, who in 2022 said that the Government was actively ‘working on’ creating a national pharmacy minor ailments service in England, was replaced with James Morris MP.

This Pharmacy First-style offering was not part of the recent Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework (CPCF) announced last month.

Barclay on pharmacy funding

In August, the PSNC raised concerns over further delays to the CPCF deal, which it said was due to changes to DHSC ministerial teams, including the appointment of Steve Barclay as health secretary. The deal was eventually announced after he was replaced by Therese Coffey in September.

During his time at the treasury, emergency funding measures to support community pharmacy were introduced. He commented at the time: ‘We recognise the vital role community pharmacies have played throughout the pandemic, and have put in place a comprehensive package of support.’

Barclay on vaccinations

In July, Mr Barclay overturned the scrapping of the expanded campaign for free flu jabs, which had previously been announced, confirming that the campaign will again include the over-50s and certain secondary school pupils ‘later in the season’.

And in August, he accepted advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) that all children in London between the ages of one and nine should have a polio booster, beginning with the ‘most impacted boroughs’.

Barclay on drugs

In 2018, in response to a question about the high cost of specials, Mr Barclay said that he was ‘looking at’ how the NHS could ensure value for money from specials.

In August, as health and social care secretary, he committed to ensuring progress for HRT supply. He said: ‘Women’s health is a priority for this government, and we are ensuring everyone who needs HRT is able to access it. Madelaine’s work and that of her taskforce and the department has been vital, and her recommendations will ensure progress in HRT supply continues.’

Barclay on workforce

A key policy for Mr Barclay has always been boosting international recruitment, which he has often seen as the solution to the current workforce crisis in the NHS.

Mr Barclay previously ordered civil servants to ‘work at pace’ to boost international recruitment as part of his ‘sprint’ preparations for winter. 

Barclay on efficiencies

Mr Barclay has frequently spoken about the need to reduce bureaucracy and administrative work and make the NHS more efficient.

He proposed that the DHSC should play an instrumental role in reducing the bureaucratic demands on staff by cutting back on targets and focusing on scalable priorities.

To support this goal, he also introduced a hiring freeze on managers in the DHSC, despite NHSE having already made a similar hiring freeze.

He said: ‘This is not just about cost. It is also about effectiveness. Too much management can be a distraction to the front line. Staff at the centre need to streamline the administrative burden that those on the front line face.’

Barclay on patient safety

In July, Mr Barclay appointed Dr Henrietta Hughes as the first patient safety commissioner for England, following the recommendation of Baroness Cumberlege’s review into patient safety.

Dr Hughes will be an independent point of contact for patients, giving a voice to their concerns, and will help the NHS and government better understand what they can do to put patients first, promote the safety of patients, and the importance of the views of patients and other members of the public.

Barclay’s health voting record

An inspection of Mr Barclay’s voting record, via They Work For You, shows that he has hardly ever rebelled against the Conservative line on any issues.

On healthcare, he has consistently voted to empower GPs to commission services on behalf of their patients, most recently in 2019. He has also consistently voted against euthanasia and restricting NHS services to private patients.