The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has said innovation must be scaled in healthcare and the NHS App should be better used.

In what could be his final address as health secretary ahead of the arrival of a new prime minister, Steve Barclay set out the government’s priorities over the winter at Policy Exchange in London in a speech titled ‘NHS – Preparing for winter and beyond’.

He stressed that “scaling innovation so we adopt the opportunities of tech in a way Covid showed could be done” is a key priority this winter.

Barclay, who was appointed as health secretary on 5 July, also highlighted the importance of giving patients more freedom of choice at the beginning of their care and that the NHS App can help with the organisation of appointments.

He said: “We also need to make sure that patients are able to exercise choice at the very start of their care. That’s why more choice will be offered at the point of GP referral.

“It’s not just about the right to choose a hospital with a shorter wait, we need to make better use of the NHS App so patients can organise appointments in a seamless way as in other parts of their lives.”

Barclay recognised that a consistent priority of successive health secretaries has been the greater use of technology including areas like machine learning.

“We need to ask ourselves why it has seemingly been so difficult to scale innovation with many pilots commissioned but those that are successful not always rolled quickly across the entire NHS,” he said.

He applauded NICE for breaking new ground with their work with NHS England to develop a new policy framework for an assessment for digital health technologies which can also be applied to MedTech.

“This policy framework will greatly improve the uptake and adoption of well-evidenced technologies and provide clarity to industry partners of their route to scaling and reimbursement and I have written to NICE asking for this work to be expedited,” Barclay announced.

The health secretary also recounted a recent trip to North Warwickshire Trust in which he was told clinicians wait a long time for images to load every morning. He said we must ensure all trusts have effective Wi-Fi and EPRs.

Barclay said his number one priority is cutting ambulance waiting times and he confirmed that a “new focus on operational performance underpinned by data” and “targeted work over the summer” was being used to deal with issues in a small number of trusts that NHS data shows account for almost half of ambulance handover delays.