The health service’s top civil servant visited Wigan to set out his vision of how the NHS in the borough will look in five years’ time.
Simon Stevens, the NHS England CEO, addressed residents, MPs and council employees at the DW Stadium after being invited to the borough by Healthwatch Wigan.
Mr Stevens spoke about the changes which devolution of powers to local authority would bring to the health service in what was described as a massive coup for the borough.
However, the event was not without controversy, with activists from Wigan People’s Assembly and protest groups demonstrating outside about the perceived risk of increasing privatisation in the NHS.
In his speech Mr Stevens said: “I would like to congratulate Healthwatch Wigan, they are doing a fantastic job locally.
“There are currently three major issues facing the NHS; funding, care and prevention. A total of 40 per cent of issues effecting the NHS are entirely preventable. These issues need to be addressed in the next five years.
“There have been huge improvements in health and care in the past few decades, and Wigan hospital is one of the best in the country. However, more needs to be done.”
Mr Stevens said it was vital all women received specialist treatment for postnatal depression, compared to the current figure of one in four.
Wigan Council also used the event, which included a panel discussion featuring Mr Stevens, local authority leader Lord Smith and top doctors, to launch its Deal for Health and Wellness.
The afternoon was an emotional one for Healthwatch Wigan chair Sir Ian McCartney as it was his last public engagement before retiring.
Healthwatch Wigan chief executive Dave Nunns said: “I’m delighted that Simon Stevens has taken the time to come to Wigan, not only to recognise the importance of the local boroughs outside of major cities like Manchester but also to listen first hand to the views of the residents of Wigan borough.”
However, some activists did not welcome Mr Stevens’ visit, saying they do not believe he is committed enough to keeping the NHS free at the point of delivery.
Graham Gifford, a member of Wigan People’s Assembly, said: “We are worried about the devolution of the NHS budget in the Greater Manchester area. It will be under-funded and we think it is a further step towards privatisation.
“The NHS has been an accepted institution of free medical treatment at the point of delivery for everybody, and we fear that we’re moving away from that ethos.”