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Why 2018 will be a very special year for the NHS

Posted on 29/12/2017 by


This is a special year for the NHS - it marks its 70th birthday. So expect lots of anniversary events and stories celebrating the success of the health service over the past seven decades.

The big day is on 5 July and word has it that the Chelsea Flower Show and the Wimbledon tennis championships will even be organising their own tributes.

There will also be a ceremony at Westminster Abbey in London and individual health services are being encouraged to hold open days for the public, 70th birthday-themed awards for staff and to help communities organise summer tea parties to mark the milestone.

There is much to celebrate. The NHS has played its part in eradicating diseases such as polio and diphtheria and pioneered new treatments including carrying out the first liver, heart and lung transplant.

And it is also the UK's largest employer with 1.5 million staff drawn from all over the world.

But what else will the next 12 months hold?

Watching the waiting times

Despite the goodwill and celebration that will surround the 70th birthday, the NHS will also be in for a challenging year.

Scrutiny has never been higher, particularly over what is happening to waiting times. The key targets, covering cancer, A&E and planned operations are being regularly missed across the UK.

In England, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has promised the four-hour A&E target will be met by the end of March.

To help, the Treasury pumped an extra £1bn into the council care system this year, in the process tying town halls into working with the NHS to get vulnerable elderly patients in and out of hospital as quickly as possible.

But as things stand currently, twice as many people as should be are still waiting more than four hours.

It will be a difficult task to change that. In fact, NHS bosses have warned that, given the current level of funding, meeting many of their targets may prove problematic.

Sugar, sugar

Britons are known for their sweet tooth, but almost unnoticed the amount of sugar in our food is being reduced - or at least health officials hope it is.

In the summer of 2016 the government set manufacturers a target to reduce sugar content in a range of foods aimed at children by 20% by 2020.

This can be achieved through reducing the actual sugar levels in products, reducing portion size or shifting purchasing towards lower sugar alternatives.

The first progress report on this will be published by Public Health England in March when it will be expected the food industry will have achieved a 5% reduction. If they haven't, expect ministers in England to come under pressure.

When the child obesity strategy was published last year, the government placed a lot of emphasis on this partnership with manufacturers. Campaigners wanted them to be tougher and legislate.

Care for the elderly

It was one of the key issues of the election. Shortly before publishing their manifesto, the inner circle at Number 10 decided to hatch a new plan for social care in England.

The system in Wales and Scotland has already been changed significantly post-devolution.

But it didn't go down well. Dubbed a dementia tax, the proposals were widely derided as an attempt by the government to use the wealth accrued by homeowners to fund the social care system, which covers care homes and help at the home for daily task such as washing and dressing. Unlike the NHS, this support is not provided free to everyone.

Within days, the prime minister was rowing back on the plans, saying any costs would be capped. It was perhaps the first sign all was not going well in the election campaign.

The government is now promising a fresh set of proposals in a green paper that will be published by the summer recess.

This administration will not be the first to attempt to reform the system. When Tony Blair came to power in 1997 he talked about it too, as did his successor Gordon Brown and then his successor David Cameron. Ministers should be prepared for a bumpy ride.

Getting answers to the 'worst-ever treatment disaster in the NHS'

During the summer, the government announced there would be a new UK inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal, often called the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS.

At least 2,400 people died after they were given blood products that were infected with hepatitis C and HIV during the 1970s and 1980s.

Thousands of NHS patients with an inherited bleeding disorder called haemophilia were given the plasma products, some of which came from prison inmates in the US.

In the autumn it was given the status of a full statutory inquiry led by the Cabinet Office.

This came after campaigners objected to the Department of Health taking on the lead role - they have argued the department has, in the past, helped to cover up what really went on.

But despite the announcement, the campaigners are still waiting for further details of how the inquiry will be carried out and who will chair it.

Expect ministers to come under pressure to get the inquiry moving early in the new year.

Source: BBCNews