12 months on

Rainbow on grey skys over the Great North Children's Hospital and RVI

Ambulances parked outside Newcastle's RVI

Next week, it will be 12 months since the first patients with covid-19 were identified in the UK. On 31st January 2020 Newcastle was thrust into the media spotlight as Professor Chris Whitty announced that our High Consequence Infectious Diseases Unit had been activated to receive and care for those initial patients.

Although it feels like much more than a year ago I remember visiting the unit that day along with our Executive Medical Director Andy Welch. I remember the sense of calm control that was so apparent in the unit. Everyone was prepared.

They knew how to approach this new challenge, and the whole trust supported them.
Alongside that, the rest of the organisation and the city was coming to terms with this new threat.

The principles that we embraced on that first day have continued to serve us well throughout the challenging last 12 months – to be led in our response by our clinical experts, to communicate quickly and clearly, to support our staff and to be agile in our response to new challenges.

Since that fateful day we have all encountered the most extreme personal and professional challenges that we couldn’t previously have imagined.

Person walking down the quayside Newcastle with mask on

Things that have become part of our everyday experience such as lockdowns, social distancing, face coverings, travel corridors and daily Government press conferences would have been unthinkable back then.

Many of us look back over the last 12 months with sadness. We have lost friends and members of our families and been isolated from those we love.

As we sit here now, in our third national lockdown, and with many of our services under extreme pressure, it can at times feel like the pressure is relentless and it’s important to acknowledge the hard times we are going through.

Picture of staff nurse in full PPE in the assessment suite at the RVI

But over the past 12 months we have achieved so much together. We have been at the forefront of developing effective care for patients with

covid-19; we’ve come together with our partners to throw a ring of support around our care homes residents; we’ve kept our doors open in the emergency department and assessment suite to support those who need urgent and emergency care.

Alongside that we’ve continued to provide the highest standards of care to our patients without covid – those who have cancer and other long-term conditions and those who need transplants.

Children and young people, mums and babies have all benefitted from our expert care – much of it provided very differently from before.

Nurse pressing down on patient's arm after receiving covid vaccineWe’ve delivered over 290,000 outpatient appointments online or over the phone, created endless new clinical approaches and research programmes, built our Nightingale Hospital and the integrated covid lab, as well as creating new intensive care wards and we’ve developed a vaccine programme for the region. Quite remarkable achievements in such a short time.

And the level of gratitude we have received from our patients, the public and local businesses has been remarkable.

I’ve been so proud to see the responses from every area of the trust – from our labs, to our corporate teams, from infection control to our housekeepers, from our wards to our community.

I want to pay tribute to every staff member and volunteer who has played a part. Each of you deserves a medal and you have my heartfelt thanks.

I hope that you will each be able to find some time over the next few days to reflect with each other about what we have achieved, but also to think about how we can support each other in these difficult times. Perhaps it’s a good opportunity to quietly say thank you to colleagues who have made a difference to you.

Next Friday (29 January), our Trust chaplain Katie Watson will also hold a short reflective service and we will share the link with staff to watch at their own time.

The NHS that emerges from this pandemic will be fundamentally different to the one we knew in 2019, but what will remain constant is the care and compassion we provide and the kindness we show to our patients and to each other. That is what makes Newcastle so special and I wouldn’t have wanted to go through the last year with any other team.

Support for you

We know this is a worrying time for staff and many of us will be feeling stressed and anxious. Support for staff is of paramount importance. With this in mind, we have to useful resources to support staff:

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) – You can find a full list of mental health first aiders on the Trust intranet site. Please contact Health and Safety on 29147 or 48084 if you have any questions about MHFAs in your area.

The Psychology in Health Care Team – have regular briefings to link you with information that can help support your psychological wellbeing.

Chaplaincy service – Chaplains provide a 24 hour on-call service every day. Please contact them through the Switchboard.
You can find out information on all of these services and additional useful links and resources here:

If you are struggling and need to speak to someone, please contact the OHS Support line
0191 282 4800 or email [email protected]