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.
Very useful analysis of the latest #NHS Plan. The analysis by @incisivehealth is fairly scathing and the serious questions raised are spot on. If anything, their take should be even tougher, given the disaster that is #publichealth in England. https://t.co/qnkCZUaJeq pic.twitter.com/qo1sNjpMxy
— Gabriel Scally (@GabrielScally) January 7, 2019
— Hugh Alderwick (@hughalderwick) January 7, 2019
As ever, health policy Twitter did not disappoint, with not one but two Long Term Plan / Beatles mash ups.
After careful consideration I concluded that those 3 clunky syllables are a better fit with Hard Day’s Night. Here’s my amended opening- a love letter from Simon Stevens to the NHS. @mancunianmedic pic.twitter.com/HxVwTBEKlZ
— Jeremy Taylor (@JeremyTaylorNB) January 11, 2019
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.
— Dave West (@Davewwest) January 31, 2019
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.
Today we’ve announced £200m for 300 cutting-edge cancer diagnostic machines across the country – helping us achieve our goal of 55,000 more people surviving cancer every year#NHSLongTermPlanhttps://t.co/MpfOtR2Dmt pic.twitter.com/6G2PA76lHS
— Matt Hancock (@MattHancock) September 27, 2019
There was also additional investment to build 40 new hospitals, although there was a little confusion over what “new” really means.
— Matt Hancock (@MattHancock) September 29, 2019
He said he would build 40 new hospitals – but money has only been pledged for six https://t.co/fUiHHKBZtp
— BBC Reality Check (@BBCRealityCheck) December 13, 2019
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.
Here is The Independent’s Group’s breakaway statement: pic.twitter.com/BjBXti962r
— Sebastian Payne (@SebastianEPayne) February 18, 2019
They promptly broke the internet by holding their Party meeting in Nando’s.
— Chuka Umunna (@ChukaUmunna) February 25, 2019
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.
And they’re out. Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Gavin Shuker, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston have left Change UK.
Anna Soubry has become the party’s new leader.
— Harry Yorke (@HarryYorke1) June 4, 2019
The confusion and chaos continued. In September, Boris Johnson made the controversial decision to prorogue Parliament, which left some MPs singing in their seats…
I know you’re not meant to film in the chamber, but everyone on the opposition benches is singing and this moment was beautiful. pic.twitter.com/MfQzpdTHRa
— Danielle Rowley (@DaniRowley) September 10, 2019
…and others resorting to desperate measures to try and prevent the prorogation
The state of this. Some of these parliamentarians were the same ones who thought it was an outrage that Rees-Mogg had a lie down last week. All as bad as one another pic.twitter.com/2MeSJj9PhT
— Matt Chorley (@MattChorley) September 10, 2019
In a final defining moment for British Politics in 2019, the prorogation was deemed unlawful in the Supreme Court.
Lady Hale: ***This was not a normal prorogation. It prevented Parliament from carrying out its constitutional role.*** Parliament has not been able to hold ministers to account, ask questions and bills have been lost.
— Dominic Casciani (@BBCDomC) September 24, 2019
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.
More than two thirds of respondents to our poll agree that #patientempowerment needs to be addressed more at EU and national level, yet only 42% are confident that effective action will be taken
— Incisive Health (@incisivehealth) May 30, 2019
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.
🥪 Safe food
👨 Healthy workplaces
💦 Clean water
💊 Safe medication and medical devices
— European Parliament (@Europarl_EN) October 28, 2019
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.
Thank you @pcanfin for the constructive meeting on EU health and food safety priorities. Looking forward to cooperating closely on EU’s cancer plan, #Farm2Fork Strategy and other priority issues over the next five years. pic.twitter.com/yoA0vCkfQf
— Stella Kyriakides (@SKyriakidesEU) December 17, 2019
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
Health is a right for all.
Our goal must be overall well-being, physically and mentally for everyone in all countries.
— United Nations (@UN) December 14, 2017
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.
It’s being reported that more than 1 million people will face long waits in A&E this winter. In analysis for @BBCNewsnight, @SarahScobie2 reflected on how the NHS is faring as we enter the colder months: has the service just seen its worst ever summer? https://t.co/huMIZsQoU6 pic.twitter.com/MS6hTRyjGp
— Nuffield Trust (@NuffieldTrust) November 7, 2019
WOW: NHS A&E attendances in July up 4% on July 2018 last year – this is HIGHEST number of attendances since collection began
HUGE worry for NHS is its not getting on top of demand. A&E attendances & admissions both rocketing when key target for NHS has been to reduce both. pic.twitter.com/mocjWFjcbp
— James Illman (@Jamesillman) August 8, 2019
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.
Wow — not one single trust major NHS hospital hit the four hour A&E standard (95%) in November. Not one. That must be a first? Top performers on clip below pic.twitter.com/74g7ct7dsf
— James Illman (@Jamesillman) December 13, 2019
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.
“We made a map of the world, tracking where the sentiment about vaccines causing autism is in the media. It’s everywhere.” @ProfHeidiLarson director of the Vaccine Confidence Project @LSHTM https://t.co/rZNFzZfxik
— The BMJ (@bmj_latest) March 19, 2019
In 2019, measles cases globally increased by 300%. And the UK – declared measles free in 2017 – lost its eliminated status.
— The BMJ (@bmj_latest) April 16, 2019
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.