Approaching a vaccine

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, medical and scientific teams including research teams here in Newcastle have been working to developing a vaccine to help stop the spread of the virus.

It’s been wonderful to see the promising announcement on vaccines in the media over the last few days and weeks. Progress is being made at an incredible pace, which I know is down to the determination of many clinical staff across the UK and around the world.

In Newcastle, we have an important role to play, as we have been asked to be a vaccine hub, supporting the whole region to gain protection from COVID-19 as quickly as we are able to. I’m proud that we’re able to step up and support the North East in this way, and very grateful to the team, led by Martin Wilson (Chief Operating Officer) and Neil Watson (Chief Pharmacist) and supported by their operational teams, who are once more working around the clock to put the necessary plans in place.

You will be aware from the media, that COVID-19 vaccine development is progressing well and the different vaccines are undergoing the regulatory approval process to ensure they are safe and effective. Once approval is granted, we will be ready to deliver the vaccine to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.

We now know that frontline NHS staff will be among the first groups to be offered the vaccine. Ensuring you are kept safe is a priority and getting vaccinated means you can be there for your patients and loved ones.

As soon as more information is available about the NHS vaccine programme I will share it with you through the usual routes. What is important now, is that everyone has their flu jab. This is more important than ever. We know that covid jabs and flu jabs need to be given separately so prioritising your flu jab now means you will be able to get a covid vaccination later.

Help protect yourself so you can be there for others; when the time comes, get your COVID-19 vaccine.A shield which reads 2020 flu protected in place

This week, I also wanted to acknowledge the heroic work that everyone across every part of the organisation is delivering at the moment.

As I write this, we have around 100 patients in our hospitals with COVID-19, down from a peak of around 150 two weeks ago. It feels as if we are now starting to see some of the benefit of our second national lockdown, and this is very welcome, providing some much needed respite from the higher levels of admissions we have seen recently. I’m acutely aware of how difficult the last few weeks have been as the pressure in some areas has been relentless. One of the factors that makes Newcastle so successful is that we don’t accept pressure as a reason to not perform well and I know that both clinical and operational teams continue to make remarkable efforts to see our patients in good time, and give each of them the very best care.

Recently we have been undertaking a number of performance reviews with directorates which have an important formal role in corporate governance and accountability. These help us to think about how well directorates are doing in a number of areas – most importantly quality, patient safety and patient and staff experience. They are an opportunity for a focussed discussion about what is going well for each team, and also what challenges are arising. It’s also an important chance to say thank you for the hard work that everyone is contributing.

I’ve also been meeting with our consultants, virtually of course, to discuss issues of mutual interest. I’ve been delighted to see around 90 consultants at each of the meetings, which have included vibrant discussions and great feedback.

I’ve been reassured to see that the investments which we are discussing and agreeing for directorates are having an impact at the front line. Alongside our comprehensive response to the pandemic, we’ve also been able to invest in harm free care and rehabilitation for example. We’ve opened our new intensive care unit on ward 49 at the RVI this week. This wonderful facility has been delivered following 12 weeks of round the clock work from our estates team, clinical leads and contractors.

We are also establishing a bespoke ophthalmology ‘hub’. In partnership with Vanguard, this will provide three-theatres to perform procedures such as the removal of cataracts, and will dramatically increase our activity levels so that we will be able provide over 100% of our pre-covid levels for these procedures. The hub will go live in January 2021. Currently only around 20% of the patients treated in this service reside within Newcastle and so this investment will support patients from across the whole region.

Overall our activity figures for October show that compared to pre-covid we’re providing an average of just under 80% for inpatient spells and just under 90% for outpatient attendances. Levels of referrals for care in Newcastle Hospitals have also strengthened, with routine outpatient referrals at around 75% of their previous average, and corresponding numbers of around 135% and over 90% for urgent and two-week-wait referrals respectively.

Of course I’m conscious that there are areas with particular challenges. Inevitably, there has been an increase in the numbers of patients who are waiting long lengths of time. Teams are working hard to make sure that the most urgent patients are seen first so that we keep safety as our number one priority.

Once again I’m hugely grateful to everyone who is contributing to supporting our patients in every way.

Chief Nursing Officer Awards

I was delighted to see England’s Chief Nursing Officer, Ruth May surprise seven of our nurses this week when she awarded them with her coveted Chief Nursing Officer medals.

Six nurses received a Silver Medal which recognises major contributions to patient care and the nursing and midwifery profession, and Ms May also awarded her highest possible accolade – the Gold Medal – to senior nurse, Suzanne Medows on the day she retired from Newcastle Hospitals following a much respected nursing career spanning over 40 years.

Suzanne was nominated for the Gold Medal in recognition of her superb leadership skills with many nurses and student nurses citing her as the reason they have enjoyed outstanding learning and mentoring experiences whilst developing their own nursing careers.

The Silver Medal winners were all commended for demonstrating outstanding levels of commitment, dedication and leadership.

  • Ian Joy, Associate director of nursing
  • Dr Clare Abley, Nurse consultant for vulnerable older adults
  • Peter Towns, Associate director of nursing
  • Sharon De Vera, staff nurse at the Freeman Hospital’s cardiothoracic theatres
  • Hilary Earl, Matron and service lead for babies, children and young people up to the age of 19 years
  • Jackie Rees Nurse consultant leading on issues affecting the bladder and bowels

I’d like to add my personal congratulations to them all.

Today is the last day for you to complete your staff survey – please do take the opportunity to have your say #WeEachHaveAVoice

Asymptomatic testing

A new initiative to help us better understand how and when symptoms of COVID-19 occur will start next week, as we join NHS England’s self-testing scheme for healthcare staff.

All patient facing staff in the trust will be invited to take part, however participation is completely voluntary, and we will introduce the kits incrementally before rolling it out to all our services. Further information about this will be available in the COVID-19 updates and on the coronavirus intranet site.


I know this Christmas will be different but we hope to bring a little #comfortandjoy with this year’s Flourish Christmas campaign.Look out for our very special digital advent calendar launching on 1 December.

Awards and achievements

Huge congratulations to Darren Vernon, one of our band 7 CNS stoma nurses has won the Jennifer Cole Award as part of his university studies – it recognises hard work and dedication to cancer and palliative care modules.