Highly-respected director of public health who led through pandemic retires

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Wigan Council and its community partners have bid a fond farewell to the director of public health who led the borough through the Covid-19 pandemic during a remarkable tenure.

Professor Kate Ardern, who has held the post for 14 years, is leaving her role to begin a well-earned retirement but will use her expertise in part-time strategic advisor roles.

Prof Ardern – who was also the Lead Director of Public Health for Greater Manchester- leaves a positive legacy in Wigan Borough with significant progress made in improving the borough’s health outcomes.

Over the last decade-and-a-half, she has seen healthy life expectancy in Wigan Borough for both men and women improve to reach the England average, and the prevalence of smoking in the borough’s adult population halve.

Prof Ardern has spearheaded the development of a citizen-led health champions movement as part of the Deal, with 23,000 members working to create dementia-friendly communities, champion cancer and heart disease prevention, mental wellbeing and autism friends.

In this time, Wigan Borough became a national beacon of good public health practice, cited in the Kings Fund report on the Deal.

Most recently, Prof Ardern became a figurehead and spokesperson for both Wigan Borough and the wider region during the Covid-19 pandemic.

As part of this, she became one of the first directors of public health to speak directly to residents through an innovative live Facebook Q&A which took place each fortnight throughout the pandemic.

Alison Mckenzie-Folan, chief executive of Wigan Council, said: “Kate’s public service here in Wigan Borough over the last 14 years has had an immense impact on the lives of our residents and our public health outcomes.

“A key voice in public health, in recent years Kate’s leadership and expertise has guided our borough’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We will certainly miss her as a valued colleague and as a leading figure within our #TeamWigan approach and wish her all the very best in her retirement.”

The Leader of Wigan Council, Councillor David Molyneux MBE, added: “Kate will be incredibly missed by us all at Wigan Council, across Greater Manchester and the wider region.

“We wish her all the best for a long and happy retirement.”

Wigan Council’s new director of public health will be announced in due course.