Amongst policy wonks and politicos, 2018 will likely be remembered for one reason and one reason only (and no, it isn’t the brief period in which football looked like it was coming home). Without mentioning the dreaded ‘B’ word, it does feel like 2018 has been dominated by political stagnation, mass media hysteria and absolutely no clarity whatsoever on the UK’s exit from the European Union.

But looking beyond Brexit, 2018 was also a year of big health policy moments. The Department of Health was renamed the Department of Health and Social Care. We were promised a new long term plan for the NHS and a social care green paper, neither of which have materialised. Oh, and the NHS celebrated its 70th Birthday.

All this has kept the Incisive Health team busy, and as the end of the year approaches, we’ve taken a look back at our top health policy moments of 2018, in both the NHS and in Europe.

The NHS celebrates its 70th birthday

The National Health Service turned 70 on 5 July 2018, with a flurry of activity to celebrate the many achievements of the nation’s most-loved institution.

The Prime Minister announces a new long-term funding settlement for the NHS

Over the summer, the Prime Minister announced a birthday present funding settlement for the NHS, amounting to a 3.4% real terms increase per year for the NHS England budget. However, with no clarity on funding for public health, medical education or equipment in the Autumn Budget we still have to watch and wait until 2019’s Comprehensive Spending Review.

Jeremy Hunt becomes the longest serving Health Minister

In June, Jeremy Hunt overtook Norman Fowler to become the longest-serving health secretary, with 5 years and 274 days under his belt. He barely had time to celebrate, however, as a mere 35 days later his tenure ended.

Matt Hancock becomes Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

With Number 10 desperately needing Jeremy to fill a Boris-shaped hole in the Foreign Office, Matt Hancock MP, the then Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, stepped into his shoes. It’s probably unsurprising that the first new Health Secretary for nearly six years would make our list.

With a (perhaps misguided) Matt Hancock app launched at the beginning of the year, it was no shock that his health policy priorities would focus on all things digital. But, Matt Hancock set out his focus on technology in the most retro way possible…

The first CAR-T therapy for adults becomes available in the NHS

In October, Simon Stevens announced that adult cancer patients in England will receive a new game-changing therapy treatment, under the first negotiated deal of its kind struck in Europe.

The CAR-T therapy – Axicabtagene ciloleucel (also known as Yescarta), works by re-programming the patient’s own immune system to target their cancer, and heralds the start of a new era of personalised medicine in the NHS.

The 100,000 Genome Project hits its target

In 2012, David Cameron (remember him?) announced an ambitious new project to sequence the genomes of NHS patients living with rare diseases and cancer. Fast forward to this year, and Genomics England announced in December that the project had hit its milestone target, cementing the UK’s position as a global leader in genomics. The ambition doesn’t stop there: the Government has now announced an expansion of the project to sequence 1 million whole genomes within the next 5 years.

The fax machine is dead

2018 can be marked as a year where disruptive technologies hit the NHS by force. The Department of Health and Social Care announced it was “banning” the fax machine, an app-based GP service (GP at Hand) was seemingly endorsed by the Health Secretary and the first robotic surgery system in the UK was launched.

Special credit must surely go to Julian Patterson, who went one step further:

A year of parliamentary firsts

2018 marked the 100-year anniversary of the Representation of the People act, which first gave women the right to vote. Here at Incisive Health we’re unashamed to be parliamentary nerds. 2018 has delivered some excellent examples of parliamentary firsts, from the Labour Party’s revival of the 19th century humble address to the Government being found in contempt of Parliament for the first time in history.

It’s also worth celebrating another first: Lloyd Russell-Moyle became the first MP to reveal his HIV+ status in the House of Commons

No deal Brexit becomes a real possibility

With the Cabinet in chaos, the Prime Minister facing a vote of no confidence and an Opposition still working out what their position on Brexit really is, preparations for no deal have stepped up dramatically in recent weeks.

Kidney Care UK published a hard hitting image demonstrating the complex supply chain of dialysis products, which really brings to life the scale of the issue.

Meanwhile, as the pharmaceutical industry was warned by the Department of Health and Social Care to start stockpiling medicines, Matt Hancock announced he was the “largest buyer of fridges in the world”. Rumours are circulating in Whitehall that the Government has chartered a plane to fly in vital supplies, in the case of a chaotic exit on March 29.

EU election season is just around the corner

With so much happening with Brexit, it’s easy to forget the health policy announcements from further afield. With the European elections just around the corner, our team in Brussels has been busy identifying the 5 hot topics that will drive the EU health agenda in 2019 and beyond.

Ireland repeals the Eighth

In a historic referendum in May, Ireland voted by a landslide to repeal the 8th amendment to the country’s constitution, allowing the government to legislate for abortion.  The vote marked a monumental shift in attitudes towards women’s rights in Ireland.

Thousands of women flew home to Ireland from far flung corners of the world and social media became a force for good – with #Hometovote seeing voters being crowdfunded to make it back to vote in time. If you didn’t follow it at the time, it’s a heart-warming hashtag that’ll likely make you cry.

Joint action on vaccines in Europe

Europe’s Health Ministers adopted recommendations to strengthen pan-European cooperation on vaccine preventable diseases. The initiative aims to tackle vaccine hesitancy, improve coordination on vaccine procurement and support research and innovation.The European Commission is reinforcing its support to national vaccination efforts, through the preparation of a Joint Action on vaccination co-funded by the Health Programme worth over €3.55m.

Looking to the future

With all the chaos we’ve seen in December, it would be foolish to try to predict what might happen in 2019. That said, we can probably place our chips on a long-term NHS plan, and perhaps a general election and a new Prime Minister too.