This time last year I settled down to write a 2018 highlights blog. In my introduction, I summarised the year as being dominated by “political stagnation, mass media hysteria and absolutely no clarity whatsoever on the UK’s exit from the European Union.” Déjà vu, anyone?

As business continues as usual (and by business, I mean chaos), in 2019, we’ve had 17 votes on Brexit, three of which have been meaningful. 25 cabinet ministers, government ministers, MPs and MSPs have either quit, resigned or been sacked by Boris Johnson. The NHS has been promised 40 new hospitals (or is it 6?). We’ve had a general election; a new Government; oh, and the social care green paper still hasn’t been published. Across the channel, there’s a new European Parliament and a new Commission.

All of this has kept the Incisive Health team pretty busy. As 2019 draws to a close, we’ve taken a look at some of the most important moments of this year.

The NHS was given a new 10 year plan

Following the NHS’s bumper birthday funding settlement in the Summer of 2018, health policy wonks across the land were eagerly awaiting the publication of the new long-term strategy for the NHS. When it arrived in January, commentators were quick to point out the similarities to previous plans.

As ever, health policy Twitter did not disappoint, with not one but two Long Term Plan / Beatles mash ups.

Following hot on its heels, at the end of January, the new GP contract was revealed

Dubbed the “biggest reform to GP services in 15 years” by the HSJ.  Key changes included state indemnity for GPs and practice staff for the first time, a boost to non-GP staff and online and direct booking through NHS 111.

The prevention green paper set out the Government’s plan for a decade of proactive, predictive, and personalised prevention

Building traditional public health interventions, with further action promised on smoking, obesity and mental health, the paper also set out aims to embed genomics in routine healthcare, making the UK the home of the genomic revolution.

The Government made bold promises on NHS Capital.

In September, they announced a £200m investment in 300 new cutting-edge cancer diagnostic machines across the country.

There was also additional investment to build 40 new hospitals, although there was a little confusion over what “new” really means.

With a new Government now elected, and the biggest Conservative majority since 1987, there’s now an opportunity to translate these bold promises into action. With NHS Bills on the legislative agenda, 2020 may bring change for the health service.

The year was dominated by political instability

In February, seven Labour MPs defected to sit as ‘The Independent Group’ of MPs. They were joined by Conservative defectors, including Sarah Wollaston and Anna Soubry.

They promptly broke the internet by holding their Party meeting in Nando’s.

And, despite claiming they were definitely not a political party, they then went on to form a new Political Party, Change UK. That wasn’t the end of the saga. By June, five of the original members left the party and subsequently joined the Liberal Democrats. By the end of the year, they were no more.

The confusion and chaos continued. In September, Boris Johnson made the controversial decision to prorogue Parliament, which left some MPs singing in their seats…

…and others resorting to desperate measures to try and prevent the prorogation

In a final defining moment for British Politics in 2019, the prorogation was deemed unlawful in the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, in Europe, health was reconfirmed as a priority for the Parliament and the Commission

Ahead of the European elections in May, Incisive Health Brussels published an important polling report revealing that EU citizens wanted more action on health.

The results show a clear appetite for action on health policy at EU level, in particular in vaccination and innovation in healthcare. Newly elected Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) took up their posts in September, promising action on public health.

The next generation of European Commissioners (2019-2024) took office on 1 December, a month late (it’s not all plain sailing in Europe either…). The new Health Commissioner, Cypriot Stella Kyriakides, is a psychologist by training and passionate patient advocate, and hopes are high. There’s likely to be action on affordable medicines, e-healthy, antimicrobial resistance, vaccination and the creation of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan.

And looking even further afield, the United Nations Global Assembly made important commitments to Universal Health Coverage during this year’s 74th meeting – a landmark moment for global health and development

NHS performance continues to be cause for concern

The NHS Winter crisis is nothing new, but this year worsening NHS performance seemed to be a perennial event.

A&E performance continues to decline, reaching record lows month on month. In November, not one single trust major NHS hospital hit the four hour A&E standard.

With the flu on the rise, the new Government will need to show how it is tackling ongoing pressures facing the NHS in the first months of 2020.

And global health continues to face challenges from the rise of populism

The growth of populist politics, fuelled by ‘fake news’, has been having a negative impact on decisions affecting public health in a number of countries.

In 2019, measles cases globally increased by 300%. And the UK – declared measles free in 2017 – lost its eliminated status.

With all the chaos we’ve seen this year, it would be foolish to try to predict what might happen in 2020. That said, we can probably place our chips on leaving the European Union, but I wouldn’t count your chickens on a social care plan any time soon.