January

Andover Community Healthcare trust kicked off the year with the first bid to be a primary care trust. Health minister Alan Milburn announced a further£80m reduction in management costs on top of£100m to be saved by cutting 'red tape'. Community health councils called for the Department of Health to crack down on health authorities which, it said, were making hospital closure decisions behind closed doors.

The Welsh white paper, Putting Patients First, announced plans for local health groups coterminous with local authorities. Ministers gave the go- ahead for work to start on a new£214m private finance initiative-funded hospital for Norwich.

Talks began on the possible merger of the National Association of Fundholding Practices and the National Association of Commissioning GPs. Health secretary Frank Dobson reappointed Lady Helen Gardiner as temporary chair of Surrey Ambulance Service trust two months after sacking her.

February

Frank Dobson announced that he had 'saved' St Bartholomew's Hospital for the nation. The NHS Executive warned HAs not to rush to set up primary care groups. The DoH admitted to an administrative error after a trawl for new HA and trust board members led to a disproportionate number of Labour councillors getting jobs.

Pay rises for doctors and nurses were staged. The English public health green paper, Our Healthier Nation, cut 27 existing targets to just four, to the concern of public health and mental health campaigners. Former Lothian health board secretary Clive Winter was jailed for four-and-a- half years after being found guilty of violent and random attacks on strangers.

Kent and Canterbury Hospital trust launched a campaign against closure on the Internet.

March

Alan Milburn announced his intention to clean up the consultants' merit award system. NAFP chair Rhidian Morris urged his members to throw off 'depression' over the government's reforms and 'start making these reforms work'. West Sussex HA non-executive director Knighton Berry quit after shouting out loud that Frank Dobson was 'boring' and walking out of his after-dinner speech.

The National Audit Office condemned a catalogue of failures in the NHS Executive's handling of the Read computer codes. Managers welcomed a£500m Budget boost for the health service. Former NHS chief executive Sir Duncan Nichol stood down as director of Manchester University's health services management unit.

April

Ministers named the first 11 health action zones from 41 applicants. Twenty-two trust mergers took effect. Ashworth special hospital's new chief executive, Hilary Hodge, was accused of 'macho' management. Mr Dobson hinted at a further cash boost for the NHS as waiting lists in his own constituency - and elsewhere - reached a record high.

Plans were unveiled to halve the number of trusts in Scotland and Wales. Former hospital porter David Johnson was signed up as£125,000-a-year chief executive of Leeds Teaching Hospitals trust. Sir Colin Walker was sacked as chair of the National Blood Authority in the wake of the damning Cash report. Nurses jeered Mr Dobson as he apologised for staging their pay award. A draft of the new mental health strategy seen by HSJ caused consternation with its judgement that 'community care has failed'.

May

Prime minister Tony Blair appointed Peter Homa as his waiting list buster. Former Bristol Royal Infirmary chief executive John Roylance told the General Medical Council he had 'crossed the bridge' from doctor to manager and could not be held accountable for children's deaths at his hospital. Somerset's HA and county council were given the green light to set up England's first health and social services trust.

Frank Dobson set up a media 'rebuttal unit' at the DoH. Mike Fogden, incoming chair of the National Blood Authority, sacked chief executive John Adey. Junior health minister Paul Boateng promised to publish his mental health strategy 'in the summer'. NAFP relaunched as the National Association of Primary Care, NACGP as the PCG Alliance... but merger was off the agenda.

June

New NHS Confederation chief executive Stephen Thornton faced the loss through resignation and retirement of his entire top management team. Ann Widdecombe replaced John Maples as shadow health secretary. Ministers promised to publish post-operative death rates from October. The Institute of Health Services Management announced a£180,000 operating loss for 1997.

University College London Hospitals trust's patient administration system became the first victim of the millennium computer bug. Alan Milburn promised doctors a dominant role in PCGs and their own choice of board chairs. The longest-running and most expensive hearing in GMC history ended with a decision to strike John Roylance and surgeon James Wisheart from the medical register and to ban Janardan Dhasmana from operating on children for three years.

July

The NHS celebrated its 50th birthday amid mounting speculation about a possible£10bn cash boost. NHS Confederation co-chair Marco Cereste admitted that organising the anniversary health management conference 'almost bankrupted us'. Frank Dobson launched the consultation paper on quality, A First Class Service. Former Chartered Society of Physiotherapy chief executive Paul Lambden dropped his claim for unfair dismissal on the day of the tribunal hearing. Chancellor Gordon Brown's '£21bn' for the NHS turned out not to be quite what it seemed. Hilary Hodge parted company with Ashworth Hospital. It turned out that trusts were paying up to£900 a half-day session to surgeons working to clear waiting lists.

August

Troubleshooters were sent into Morriston Hospital, Swansea, to help managers find more than£5m in efficiency savings. Baroness Hayman replaced Baroness Jay as the DoH minister in the Lords, while John McFall became health minister in Northern Ireland and Jon Owen Jones in Wales. MPs on the Commons public accounts committee were 'appalled' at the NHS Executive's 'slow start' in tackling the millennium bug. Frank Dobson unveiled details of his plan for a national patient survey - to widespread scepticism. Trade union official Donna Covey took over as director of the Association of Community Health Councils for England and Wales following Toby Harris's move to the House of Lords. Hospitals across Northern Ireland found themselves dealing with the victims of the Omagh bomb.

September

As waiting lists began to fall, Conservative front-benchers began a sustained series of accusations that the figures were being 'fiddled'. An NHS Executive survey said many trusts were failing to implement their own equality policies. Scottish managers were told there would be no redundancies as a result of trust reorganisation.

Frank Dobson gave the go- ahead for pooled health and social service budgets. The NHS IT strategy finally saw the light of day - as did its human resources strategy, which set out a five-year plan of action. An Audit Commission study of the emergency ambulance service said even trusts that hit national targets had 'pockets of poor performance'.

October

A report by independent consultants called in by Barnet HA showed that the bitterly contested rundown of Edgware General Hospital had saved it£100,000 a year rather than the anticipated£13.7m. Mental health groups distanced themselves from Paul Boateng's announcement that his review of the Mental Health Act would mean forced medical treatment in the community.

National priorities guidance for the first time included both health and social services. Frank Dobson announced an inquiry into hospital bed closures. Unions were furious at attempts by Tony Blair to change the pay review bodies' remits. Liam Donaldson took over as chief medical officer. The IHSM and Association of Managers in General Practice agreed to merge.

November

The first ever league table of hospital costs provoked a predictable row about the comparison of apples with pears. Rogue doctors stood to lose their merit awards under new rules, while the medical profession lost its majority on the awards body.

With his mental health strategy still under wraps, Paul Boateng departed to the Home Office, following Welsh secretary Ron Davies' escapades on Clapham Common, to be replaced by John Hutton. A 'final draft' of guidance on PCGs suggested the first primary care trusts could go live in 18 months. Service users quit a mental health advisory group in the wake of John Hutton's first speech to Mind's annual conference.

December

Trusts were told to put a moratorium on leave and ask staff to stay on beyond retirement to help cope with an anticipated three-fold rise in emergencies over the millennium new year. The 'most radical shake-up of social services in 30 years' was trailed in a white paper.

Sir Donald Acheson's 18-month review of health inequalities produced 39 proposals, but not their cost. Lady Helen Gardiner won a further four- year term at Surrey Ambulance Service trust.

In a pre-Christmas flurry of activity, the DoH issued its consultation paper on the Patient's Charter hospital and HA league tables, mental health strategy, tobacco white paper and further PCG guidance - all just a little later than promised.