For the first Birmingham Brief of 2016, we asked five of our academics to give their thoughts on what we might expect from the year ahead.

Changes in the NHS

The funding settlement for the NHS in the Comprehensive Spending Review was better than expected; with a commitment to invest in mental health and general practice, and support from the British public remains high. 

But waiting times are rising, staff morale is falling and hospitals struggle to attract and retain nurses and other staff.  Deep cuts to social care cause particular pressure, as seen by the numbers of frail older people awaiting discharge from hospital. Add to this the expectation from politicians that the NHS makes major changes to how it delivers services – to enable more community-based care, full seven–day working, and achieve efficiency savings of £22 billion by 2020 – and 2016 looks like a very challenging year. 

If progress is made as demanded, 2016 will mark a turning point for the NHS. However, given the pressures of rising demand for health care, the overall trajectory of NHS funding falling as a percentage of GDP, and the known difficulty of making changes to health care provision, I predict a more likely scenario of the NHS ending this year with continuing financial problems and struggling to sustain care quality.   

Professor Judith Smith, Director of Health Services Management Centre

Russia’s role in global politics

During a recent visit to Moscow a leading expert told me: ‘Putin won’t be pushed around.’

 Russia’s part in the Ukraine conflict - signalling a hard-line approach to dealing with Europe - and its intervention in Syria to support Assad, a clear challenge to US foreign policy, were the stories of 2014 and 2015. These brought tactical successes; but do they threaten to turn into strategic reverses?

With sanctions over Crimea and low oil prices causing economic problems – and with a new occupant in the White House and possible wider spill-over of terrorism from Syria and Iraq - Moscow can ill afford to alienate its partners.

Putin won’t be pushed around, but expect intensive diplomatic negotiations as he seeks foreign policy successes prior to presidential elections in 2018.  

Dr Derek Averre, Senior Lecturer in Russian Foreign and Security Policy

Reviewing the Human Rights Act

Plans for replacement of the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) will be published in 2016. One key aspect will be what the plan says about the impact of judgments from the European Court of Human Rights on UK courts.

Reports are that these judgments will be said to be merely advisory on the courts, even though it is already the case that UK courts must take account of these judgments, though they are not required to follow them. Nevertheless, politicians seem concerned that European courts are usurping British judges.

This is one example of how planned changes seem designed to settle political nerves rather than address constitutional, intellectual or principled issues with how the HRA has worked for the past 15 years. Getting to the root of motivations for proposed changes will be a key task for academics, NGOs and the media over coming months.

Professor Fiona de Londras, Chair of Global Legal Studies

The EU response to migrants

The EU-Turkey deal struck in late 2015 has proved effective in reducing the influx of migrants to EU shores, but I believe the EU’s external border crisis will increasingly morph into an integration crisis within Europe if the EU and national governments don’t put in place adequate measures to assist the settlement of newcomers and address anti-immigration sentiments.

The emphasis on borders and a new EU-led border force to replace and greatly expand Frontex’s remit suggests little thought has been given to reinventing EU citizenship with the inclusion of the newcomers.

Dr Nando Sigona, Deputy Director, Institute for Research into Superdiversity

Doping in athletics

The second part of the World Anti-Doping Agency independent commission report, the first part of which revealed systematic doping in Russian athletics, is due to be published in early 2016.

In the light of recent events, I anticipate the coming year will see countries and sports beyond Russian Athletics being implicated in doping scandals; further evidence of anti-doping corruption at the highest levels in international sports federations; unprecedented levels of suspicion over transcendent performances at the Rio Olympics and the possible criminalisation of doping in the UK.

Dr Ian Boardley, Lecturer in Sport Psychology & Education