In his first speech since returning to the role of Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Steve Barclay has revealed that there are some big updates coming soon to the NHS App, including the ability to book a Covid jab.

The health secretary was speaking at the NHS Providers annual conference in Liverpool to reveal his main priorities during what he described will be “one of the toughest winters in the 74-year history of the NHS”.

Better use of the NHS App

Barclay made clear the importance of utilising technology and the opportunities it provides, in particular with regards to the NHS App, and announced that there are significant updates coming in the next weeks and months.

He said: “Whilst Covid has left us with many challenges, it has also shown us that there are new ways of working which could apply. One of the most important of those opportunities is around better use of the NHS App, which should be much more central to how people access health services.

“I very much welcome that so many GPs are now making their patient records and testing results available on the NHS App, and I think there are significant opportunities to harness the NHS App further – particularly in the context of pressures in primary care, but more widely on preventative medicine.

“And we have some big updates to come, including from the end of this month, allowing people to book their Covid jab through the NHS App.”

The idea that the NHS App should be better used has already been expressed by Barclay in the final speech of his first stint as health secretary. Speaking in early September at Policy Exchange in London, he said innovation must be scaled in healthcare and the NHS App should be better used.

Supporting the workforce

A main priority over the coming months is to support the workforce as we face the “twin threats of Covid and flu, huge external pressures around energy and cost of living”.

Barclay said: “When people ask what my priorities are for the NHS, then supporting the workforce is first amongst those priorities.”

“There is a huge amount to do, together, to steer health and care through this storm and crucially, make those changes that will make us better prepared for the future.

“We’ll do everything we can to protect the NHS this winter, through the booster programme, more staff on the NHS 111 and 999,” he added.

“My focus will be on the areas that matter most to patients and workforce and working with you on those practical measures of support”.

Elective recovery

Barclay also announced that another priority will be on the government’s recovery plan.

He said: “With the backlog at 7.1million, we will relentlessly focus on the elective recovery work that is being led by Jim Mackey [national director of elective recovery at NHS England] and delivered by you as chief executives and chairs.”

The health secretary stressed the importance of the Department working closely with NHS England on these shared priorities and announced two significant appointments who will work across both the Department and NHS England.

Orthopaedic surgeon Sir Tim Briggs has been appointed as clinical lead for the elective recovery across that programme and Sarah-Jane Marsh will take up the role of deputy chief operating officer and national director for urgent and emergency care.

Barclay signed off by saying: “No one here is in any doubt as to the size of the challenge that we collectively face.

“I’m very much looking forward in this role to working with you all to build a more resilient, healthier NHS for the long-term, so that collectively we can give the security to the people we represent of knowing it will be there for them when they need it.”