Another NHS year draws to a close

The end of March marks the close of the financial year for the NHS, and as we have reflected many times, this year has been one like no other. In April, our budgets and performance figures will be reset as usual, but that is where the similarity to previous years ends. The challenges we will face in 2021/22 are still to become clear, but we know that it will be essential to continue with our transformation of services, so that we can respond to the ongoing complexity caused by COVID-19.

It’s important to acknowledge once more the extreme efforts that everyone has made in this unparalleled year, and looking forward to the future does not at all diminish these efforts. As the number of patients we are caring for with covid continues to reduce, we are seeing something of a return to more usual levels of activity in different areas. It is important that we look forwards to the future and prepare for the challenges ahead.

Patients are certainly returning to our emergency department. Type 1 attendances (unplanned attendances categorised into minor, major or paediatrics) recently reached 96% of the pre-pandemic levels for adults and 114% for children. We just haven’t experienced these figures through the pandemic until now. With the additional complexities of social distancing, it’s remarkable to see our 4 hour emergency department performance figures consistently reaching well above 90%.

Huge congratulations to the ED and Assessment suite teams, our Urgent Treatment Centres, Eye Casualty and Same Day Emergency Care teams for providing such high levels of care to our patients, as well as to the wider medicine teams who are essential to ensuring patient flow through the Trust to minimise delays.

Day-case and elective activity levels have now recovered back to the levels before the recent peak of covid admissions, and continue to climb. As I mentioned in my last blog, 2 week wait referrals for cancer pathways remain high, with the numbers exceeding the pre-covid average. I never forget that what sits behind all of these figures is our patients – each of whom needs our expert help and support.

There is also a huge amount of work from our dedicated clinical and corporate teams to reach the high standards that we have come to expect. We should be rightly proud that our performance overall has been so positive this year. Thank you to everyone in the team for all of your exceptional efforts.

Last week, the NHS published operating guidance for the next year. It acknowledges the hard work of everyone in the NHS over this past difficult year and the optimism for the future, which is strengthened by each vaccine we deliver. It also recognises that we do not yet know what the pattern of COVID-19 transmission will look like over the next 12 months.

Importantly, the new guidance not only asks us to restore services, meet the new demands which have emerged from the pandemic and reduce the care backlogs and delays that have been caused. It also highlights the importance of supporting our NHS people to recover so that we can work in a more sustainable way without risking further burnout.

Finally, it acknowledges that health inequalities have widened during the pandemic. Positive action must be taken to tackle them and invest in areas which can have the biggest impact – like cancer, cardiovascular disease, mental health and maternity services as well as to expand smoking cessation and weight management services.

This will require the NHS to work very differently to our pre-pandemic ‘normal’, not least because of the proposed changes to commissioning organisations and integrated system working.
Overall, the 6 priorities for the NHS for 2021/22 are:

  • Supporting the health and wellbeing of staff and taking action on recruitment and retention
  • Delivering the NHS COVID vaccination programme and continuing to meet the needs of patients with COVID-19
  • Building on what we have learned during the pandemic to transform the delivery of services, accelerate the restoration of elective and cancer care and manage the increasing demand on mental health services
  • Expanding primary care capacity to improve access, local health outcomes and address health inequalities
  • Transforming community and urgent and emergency care to prevent inappropriate attendance at emergency departments (ED), improve timely admission to hospital for ED patients and reduce length of stay
  • Working collaboratively across systems to deliver on these priorities.

I very much welcome the primary focus on staff wellbeing and you know that this is something I am particularly concerned about. We have been working hard over the last few weeks to focus on how we can support staff in very practical ways, building on the feedback that we have had from you already through the staff survey. This will refresh our #FlourishAtNewcastleHosptials programme so that we can make a real impact. My next blog will focus on this important area.

I want to end by saying that I very much appreciate all of the hard work that everyone has contributed this year. Whether you have been working in our hospitals, our community services or working from home, you have made a valuable contribution to this team. Our patients and their families are very grateful for everything you do.

This is a sacred and special time of year for many faiths and beliefs. So, however you intend to celebrate with family and loved ones, stay safe & if you are having some time off over this long weekend, enjoy your well-earned break.

Welcome to North Cumbria Cancer Services

Today is an exciting day as we formally welcome almost 90 staff from North Cumbria to the team as we take over leadership of the Northern Centre for Cancer Care (North Cumbria). Together we will be providing one of the biggest combined cancer treatment services in the country.

It’s hard to believe it’s been over a year since we laid the first bricks to mark the start of building work on the new centre – and a lot has happened since then (including a pandemic!) While the opening is still a few months off, this new £35 million centre will bring all of Cumberland Infirmary’s non-surgical oncology services under the same roof, giving patients access to state-of-the-art services much closer to home for patients, carers and their relatives. It will house:

  • A chemotherapy day unit with 15 treatment chairs and three single treatment rooms
  • Two linear accelerator (LINAC) radiotherapy machines
  • A CT scanner suite
  • Consultation, examination rooms and a small café area
  • Multi-purpose rooms for complementary therapies and patient support.

In the meantime, while the building work is completed, we want to make sure that everyone in our cancer services feels very much part of our team.

Awards and achievements

All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cerebral Palsy

The neurodisability services at the Great North Children’s Hospital were invited to give evidence to the APPG for the purposes of a report on cerebral palsy.

The report focused on the issues of early identification and intervention, pathways of care, and centres of excellence. The team were selected to submit further evidence for the report and it is fantastic to see that this work is highlighted as a ‘best practice’ case study. You can read the full report here.

People at Our Heart Awards

Quarter one of this year’s People at our Heart Awards opens for nominations today. The last few months have challenged all of us like never before and I know there will be so many incredible stories of how our staff and volunteers have gone above and beyond. So help us celebrate them by putting forward your nominations here

Sensational Thinking Project

I was delighted to see that the hard work of the Sensational Thinking Project has been rewarded, with them now registered members of the CPD certification, meaning the training packages are about to become CPD certified – well done!

Fiona Cook, senior sister with Naga Munchetty at the Centre for Life
Fiona Cook, senior sister with Naga Munchetty at the Centre for Life

Day of reflection

Last week, we welcomed the BBC to our vaccination centre at the Centre for Life to host Lockdown Live, a reflective programme of events on the anniversary of the UK’s first lockdown. It was an important day of reflection, to look back on the outstanding response from everyone across the city.

It was great to hear the experiences of staff who have been part of the wider-city response to COVID-19 on Naga Munchetty’s Radio 5 Live programme and later on in the evening on the BBC’s Lockdown Live. We also heard from patients who have benefited from excellent care despite the challenges, for example the teams that have helped people welcome new life into the world.

At noon, we took a moment to pause and reflect one year on from the first lockdown at the Centre for Life vaccination centre
At noon, we took a moment to pause and reflect one year on from the first lockdown at the Centre for Life

Thank you to all those staff and patients that took part in the coverage.

However, we could not reflect on this day without great sadness at the loss we have experienced during the pandemic. At noon, we took a moment to pause and reflect one-year-on, to remember those who have sadly died during the pandemic, the challenges we have faced, and the hope we hold for the future as we ease out of this lockdown.