LAST week saw an important milestone on the road to devolution for Greater Manchester as the region took charge of its £6.2 billion health budget.
It is always a positive step when power and public spending are brought closer to the people and this is a real chance to tackle the many healthcare challenges that can be seen across the region.
These include our comparatively low life expectancy, mounting pressure on A&E departments and a growing mental health crisis.
But while this is an excellent opportunity to improve the NHS across all of Greater Manchester, I am particularly concerned with making sure that patients in Rochdale do not miss out on funding for the vital services that we need.
More than 44,000 Rochdale residents, 21% of our town’s population, have a disability or long term health problem and almost a quarter of local people have some form of mental health or wellbeing issue.
It will take time and money to transform the area’s NHS into a devolved system capable of finding local solutions to these specific health challenges.
But the devolution deal has come at a time when resources are scarce.
Greater Manchester has been given just £450 million to aid the transition to the new system. This is significantly less than the £1 billion some health experts had hoped for.
On top of that, there is an expected £2 billion deficit in the day to day health funding for the region.
There is an understandable concern that rather than devolving the NHS budget, the Government is instead devolving the burden of austerity. By handing power to local people, the Government is also passing on the responsibility for making cuts and frees itself from blame if something goes wrong. Rather than being freed to succeed, it could be argued that Greater Manchester is being set up to fail.
But these fears could be allayed if the Government provided proper funding needed to restructure our local NHS and tackle the structural problems in public health. Improvements that would save money in the longer term.
I will continue to make the case in Parliament and fight for more funding in the months and years to come.