Building on our proud history

Every six weeks we hold our Trust Management Group (TMG). This brings together our directorate managers, clinical directors, senior nurses and other senior managers with the executive team to focus on the important issues and challenges we are facing together.

While we have needed to meet virtually during the pandemic, we have continued to prioritise this engagement. Recently we have been able to return to a more hybrid style of working, and it was great to meet many of the group face to face (albeit spread across a very large lecture theatre) last week.

This group of managers and senior clinicians plays a vital role in ensuring high standards of patient care, staff experience and governance in their directorates. They are the bridge to frontline teams, translating the requirements of NHS guidance and policy into practice and making sure that we work together to maximise the standards we achieve.

In some ways, I have always felt that they have some of the hardest and least appreciated jobs in the NHS – but the difference they make cannot be underestimated. I am very proud of the team of senior leaders we have in Newcastle and am grateful for the many hours of dedicated work they contribute.

At TMG we focussed on how we can build on our proud history, our culture of high-quality care and our shared experiences of the ‘world class’ way we responded through the pandemic.

It’s important that we are realistic about the place we currently find ourselves. COVID-19 has inevitably had an extreme impact on our staff, our patients, and the NHS as a whole. It’s been a fundamental change and has taken away any ‘headroom’ that we’ve previously taken for granted, and we know that it will get tougher.

I’m sure that everyone is worried about the coming winter, potential new waves of COVID-19, the flu season and the impact of the cost-of-living crisis. Alongside that we will inevitably see more pressure to bring down 78-week and 52-week waiting times as more people who have not been able to access care experience these waits.

We need to look at our challenges differently but maintain our laser focus on high quality care. I think there are two important truths that we should hold onto.

Firstly, our standards haven’t changed – we want to make sure that as far as possible, the quality of services we provide is something we would be proud for our families and friends to receive. Patients have always been and will always be our priority.

Secondly, we have to believe that we can overcome these challenges, not in a heroic way that requires everyone to work beyond what’s reasonable, but in a grounded and flexible way – changing the way we respond and being more efficient and innovative in our practices.

How are we responding?

As an organisation we have a large amount of discretion about how we address our future ways of working – we have invested millions of pounds in new facilities – the Day Treatment Centre, a new clinical decisions unit for the Emergency Department, seven-day chemotherapy and expanding spinal deformity treatment capacity to name a few.

We are also investing heavily in IT to make sure that our digital systems are efficient and focussed on clinical needs; and we’re investing in our staff – both through trust funding and with the support of Newcastle Hospitals Charity in areas like continuous quality improvement, professional development, better catering facilities and access to welfare support and advice for everyone that can benefit.

There is a huge amount of work in progress to refresh our patient safety strategy, tackle the climate emergency, develop and enhance our research portfolio and develop new ways to support staff to work more flexibly. The pace of all of this work has been maintained and, in many cases, accelerated.

Being part of an organisation like Newcastle Hospitals gives us the privilege of being able to take the lead in the NHS. We have the skills, abilities and critical mass to be able to solve our own problems, propose new solutions and set the standard, whilst also fulfilling our responsibilities to support other parts of the health and social care system.

At TMG, I was delighted to hear from a number of directorate managers and clinical directors who were leading their teams in developing those solutions that will be followed by others. I wanted to share some of those inspirational projects with you and take the time to say thank you to everyone in the teams who has contributed.

Newcastle Westgate Cataract Centre

If you’ve not had chance to visit our new cataract centre you can watch our video or catch episode six of our Geordie Hospital series on More4 where you can see Doris being treated on her birthday. It’s a great example of how a service had been completely re-engineered to improve efficiency, safety and patient flow.

Cataract operations are one of the most common procedures in the NHS, but previously there wasn’t a streamlined pathway for patients, and they would often spend up to five hours at hospital for each procedure, so even before covid this was an area where we could improve.

As a result of the pandemic waiting lists increased dramatically with over 6,000 patients waiting at the peak. As the majority of patients were elderly, the team found that even once lockdowns had been lifted, patients were still frightened to attend the hospital.

Following improvements, over 9,500 patients have been treated and discharged home, each within an hour of arriving. They are seen by a named nurse who accompanies them through their stay and have a much lower risk of infection due to the continuous patient flow through the building from front door through theatre and to discharge – all providing a positive patient experience.

What is important is that it’s not just the new facility that has caused this improvement. The team have undertaken continuous cycles of improvement so that they can increase the list size, support staff development and respond to the regular patient feedback they receive.


In dermatology, we focussed on skin cancer performance, and heard how the team have doubled the number of patients they were able to see by introducing tele dermatology.

This has involved working closely with GP surgeries to train staff to use a dermatoscope and iphone to take high quality pictures of skin lesions which could be accurately assessed by clinical teams meaning that they can see more than twice as many patients per clinic session.

This, along with much hard work, has meant thousands of patients have been seen, high risk patients are able to be prioritised and followed up within seven days and 96% of patients have said they would use the service again.

This is a brilliant example of a whole system solution to a significant problem, which has no doubt saved many lives and provided swift reassurance to many other patients.

Dental Services

Our dental hospital is another fantastic example of how we continued to provide services through each of the lockdowns and the ways of working that they adopted has meant that they have managed to avoid some of the long waiting lists that other peers are now faced with.

Like other teams, they have worked very flexibly, making full use of regional and educational links and have been very proactive to tackle challenges while acknowledging that at times this felt like trying to ‘change the tyre on a moving car’.

Their strong focus on staff engagement and wellbeing through the ‘What Matters to You’ approach has paid dividends. They also established multi-disciplinary clinic approaches to expedite treatment pathways and have worked in partnership with primary care dentists to make sure that referral criteria and access to clinical advice and guidance works efficiently.

And much more

We also heard at the meeting from colleagues in cardiology who shared their work to improve efficiency in Catheter labs and for echocardiograms, which have had a significant positive impact, and also from the team who are establishing the new Day Treatment Centre.

I will share more about those schemes in future messages, and I want to pay tribute to everyone who has contributed to achieving all of these improvements. I hope there is something in the work that has been shared here that resonates with you. Alongside the major schemes that each directorate is developing, there are a myriad of tiny incremental improvements that we could make each day in our own workplaces.

I would encourage you not to be shy about any improvements and efficiencies that you would like to make. Please share your ideas with your colleagues and inspire each other. Thank you as ever for your fantastic work throughout the organisation.

Climate emergency

The recent heatwaves have focussed our minds again on the impact of heating on the planet, our homes and communities and on the people around us, so its appropriate that our new SHINE annual report is our ‘red flag’ issue.

The publication highlights that, despite many advances in embedding sustainable healthcare activity within Newcastle Hospitals, we have not yet reduced our carbon footprint sufficiently. You can read more here

Genomics visit

I was delighted to visit our North East and Yorkshire genomics team at the Centre for Life this week to find out more about what the team are doing to keep up to date with practices and challenges from both laboratory and clinical perspectives.

I’ll talk a bit more about the potential of precision medicine and how we can look to the future in my next blog.

Cancer Centre marks one year anniversary

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the official opening of the Northern Centre for Cancer Care, North Cumbria. Over the past year our expert team have delivered almost 9,000 radiotherapy treatments and over 10,000 chemotherapy treatments, as well as supporting patients at outpatient appointments.

I know that the development of this centre has had a huge impact on those patients in north Cumbria who are now able to access state-of-the-art cancer treatments much closer to home. Thank you to all of our staff in Cumbria and Whitehaven who continue work hard to provide excellent care to our patients.

Celebrating Excellence Awards

On Monday, I was delighted to announce the finalists of our Celebrating Excellence Awards. We received hundreds of entries and it made me very proud to be reminded of such amazing work and compassionate care right across Newcastle Hospitals. You can view our shortlist here.

Improvement story

The latest improvement story is from our Cardiology Department. Read more here about how the team has been using Quality Improvement (QI) methods to make their handovers better – and ultimately improve patient safety. If you missed our recent QI Learning and Sharing Event, you can watch it again at the following link:

Thank you month: A culture of lifting each other up

We know from staff feedback that a simple thank you can go a long way – so we are hosting a month of gratitude and appreciation throughout September.

Throughout Thank You Month, we are encouraging you to step back from the day-to-day bustle for a moment and think about everything you do for our Trust to deliver the outstanding care to patients that we are all so proud of.

It is a time to reflect on the people you work with closely and express your appreciation for each other. We will be sharing some new tools – from thank you cards– to the launch in September of a brand new online system called HIVE, which enables everyone to give a colleague a virtual HI Five.

I am so looking forward to the launch of HIVE as it will be a quick and easy way of sharing an instant thank you – as it is often the small things that make the biggest difference.

We also have a few fun activities throughout the month – from the Great Newcastle Bake Off to some treats for colleagues. There will also be more formal events – with our People at our Heart Awards event and Volunteer thank you event. The month will culminate in the glittering Celebrating Excellence Awards. Thank you everyone for the role you play – and look out for more details coming soon.

Great North 5K – limited friends & family spaces now available

The NHS Blue Wave is returning this year at the Great North Run 5K on Friday 9 September, kicking off the Great North Run weekend. After the success of the NHS Wave back in 2019, we want to bring back this energy and excitement into this year’s event. The Great North Run 5K truly is for everyone, whether you’d rather run, jog, walk or use a wheelchair. It’s all about taking part, building up some team spirit, and celebrating the NHS.

If you have a partner, friend or loved one who would love to run the Great North 5K with you – now’s their chance! We have very limited spaces remaining to join our 2022 5K team. Sign up here before 7 September to secure a last minute place, and help support Newcastle Hospitals Charity.

Cutting-edge research

Durham dad Harrison Kingsley is the first patient in Europe to take part in a clinical trial at the RVI – led by stroke physician Dr Anand Dixit – that aims to determine if stem cell infusion can improve recovery from a stroke.

Awards and achievements

Congratulations to our staff who recently completed the Northumberland Coast mighty hike raising £2,035 for Macmillan Cancer Support. The team all worked in community cardiology when they signed up and began their training in January, and finished the 26.5miles in 11 hours and 25 minutes. Well done to Sharon Westray, Lisa Lewis, Lisa Adams, Sarah Bamborough and Claire Bennison.


And finally, I was delighted to read that Professor Paul Corris was recently awarded the lifetime achievement award by the European Respiratory Society, which will be presented in September, in recognition of a lifetime of excellence in the field of thoracic surgery and transplantation. Find out more about his work.