Celebrating our Staff Networks

I’m handing my blog this week over to the chairs of our staff networks. Next week is NHS Equality, Diversity and Human Rights week – an opportunity to think and learn about the diversity within our community. The National Day for Staff Networks also takes place next week Wednesday (10 May).

As a gay woman who has worked in the NHS for my whole career, I know that staff networks are a tremendous force for good. They are so effective in working collaboratively to effect change. This year’s theme is #stayingstrong and reminding networks that standing together with other networks, their allies and sponsors will help with #makingworkbetter.

Our networks provide a safe and inclusive space for everyone and are integral to how we make Newcastle Hospitals a place where we all can flourish. They support us to think and question our every day decision making that may unintentionally favour certain groups, as well as in our policies, procedures, our patient care, our workforce representation and employee experience.

Cherron Inko-Tariah MBE in her book ‘The Incredible power of Staff Networks’ tells us:

“Staff networks by their very nature are about change. In fact, they are critical agents of change. They exist largely because there is a desire to see difference in an organisation.”

In Newcastle, we pride ourselves on innovation, and our networks play a key role in supporting us to think differently and do better. Our recent staff survey and WRES and WDES results show that we still have a long way to go in treating each other equally and our networks help us to make the changes we need to create a truly inclusive environment for us all.

I would like us to create an environment where people feel psychologically safe to bring as much (or as little) as their true selves to work as they choose. We can learn a lot from our staff networks on how to create that safety for people as they facilitate people to express their views and feedback much needed challenge. A recent example of this would be the Neurodiversity guide developed in partnership with the Enabled network, and there are many examples where networks are a collective voice that articulates issues that affect so many of us.

It’s important to me that we support everyone to have opportunities to develop, and I was delighted that, with support from Newcastle Hospitals Charity, we held the ‘Unleashing your Potential’ leadership development course for staff with a disability or long-term health condition and ‘Maximising your potential’ for BAME staff as pilot schemes to try to level the playing field. More staff members will be taking part in leadership programmes in the autumn, and I look forward to seeing their progress as they help us to make positive change.

I’m inspired by those colleagues who step up to lead and am very grateful to the co-chairs of our networks for their tireless efforts and incredible bravery and to each of them for sharing their experience in my blog today.

Odeth Richardson – Co-chair, Race Equality Network

Image of Odeth Richardson.
Odeth Richardson – Co-chair, Race Equality Network

When I took on the role of network chair, I was not anticipating the journey upon which I was about to embark. As a new chair, I knew nothing about networks but felt I wanted to make a difference to the experiences of BAME staff within the organisation.

When our WRES data was published, it helped to provide some direction as it highlighted areas of deficiencies and gave us an opportunity to look at how the network can support improvement in some of the areas in which we were lacking. A workforce race equality standard steering group was established and we worked together to develop an action plan to address the issues raised.

During the first phase of the pandemic, I further developed resilience as the demands on the role of the network chair increased. I was expected to be the voice of BAME staff and also work to address staff’s concerns as well as help to develop measures that would keep staff safe. Helping staff to navigate issues around PPE, risk assessments, redeployment etc was emotionally taxing. Staff were anxious and they looked to the chair for answers. Although taxing, it was not all negative as there was support available if required.

The network has been a voice for staff and we have been involved in lobbying the Board and working with the equality team to address issues around recruitment bias, bullying and harassment, micro aggressions and career progression. It provides an opportunity for us to embed tangible change so that staff can bring their best selves to work and be able to Flourish.

Despite all the above and the numerous initiatives that has been put in place, the experience of minoritised staff within this organisation has been deteriorating. Racist actions from some staff has increased, racism from patients to staff has also increased and the experience of black and brown staff remain poor. I’ve been involved in numerous cultural ambassador investigations, and it saddens me to see how people treat each other.

We have become adept at papering over the cracks and everything is reported as rosy. Whilst we take pride in looking after our patients, the same pride is not extended to staff. Our recent WRES results indicate we have huge issues around civility and behaviours towards each other. It’s time for us to take stock and step up as individuals to make this organisation a fairer more equitable place where everyone can bring their best selves to work and flourish.

Picture of Cheryl Gascoigne
Cheryl Gascoigne – Co-chair, Enabled Network

Cheryl Gascoigne – Co-chair, Enabled Network

When I came to work at Newcastle Hospitals in 2015, I was in kidney failure. I was introduced to the enabled network almost immediately and I joined straight away however 18 months passed before I ever attended a meeting. I thought that having a long-term health condition was not enough of a reason to come along to the meetings. I was so wrong. Once I began attending the meetings it became very clear the potential power of being part of a group of people with lived experience of disability. Shortly after starting to attend the meetings, I became Chairperson.

I was very fortunate to have my much-needed kidney transplant in 2018 therefore when Covid-19 arrived it was recommended that I should shield. Whilst I was so grateful to be able to work from home, I felt that there remained a misunderstanding regarding the challenges that came with isolation. My mental health declined during this period and I vividly recall the emotional impact and the feeling of guilt knowing my friends and colleagues were working so hard under unprecedented pressures while I remained safe at home. I was so grateful to have had the Network during that time where there were other members in similar situations with whom I could be open and honest about my feelings.

From chairing the enabled staff network I have begun to see common themes expressed and experienced by staff. There are frequent and familiar concerns regarding staff members feeling that their disability is not well understood. This is often compounded by managers experiencing significant difficulties accessing and applying for support such as Access to Work on behalf of their staff.

Additionally, there are a number of staff who are members of the enabled network who are neurodiverse and also experience sensory processing differences. I am fortunate that my clinical role as project lead for The Sensational Thinking Project is enabling me to look at our environment to better understand how we can make our Trust a sensory safe place for staff and patients alike. Together we really are making a difference.

Finally, I continue to feel disheartened that even in 2023 there remains to be a generalised stigma regarding mental health. So many members of the enabled network have said that they find it far more challenging being open with colleagues about their mental health compared to their physical health. Through the network we are striving to raise awareness throughout the Trust of such issues through campaigns and information sharing.

Poonam Singh – Co-chair, Race Equality Network

Picture of Poonam Singh
Poonam Singh – Co-chair, Race Equality Network

When I attended my very first BAME staff meeting back in 2017, I was reassured that the

experience I had within the Trust was also experienced by other colleagues. For years I believed I was the only one who experienced the micro aggressions, discrimination, the feeling of not belonging within the team but it was comforting to know other colleagues had similar experiences at different levels.

From the start I felt I needed to do my very best to support the BAME Staff. I took on the role of BAME staff co-chair with this being my priority and over the years I have supported many colleagues. The common questions I often encounter during these conversations are – ‘Why are we treated differently?’, ‘Why do we always need to work ten times harder to prove our worth?’, ‘Why does my face not fit in?’, ‘I will never be good enough no matter how hard I try’, ‘The blame always comes to me because of my colour’, and many more to add to the list.

Even though I was unable to answer the questions I was there as a listening ear and shoulder to cry on for my colleagues. On many occasions I have referred colleagues to the Freedom to Speak Guardian, equality team and occupational health. Over the years with constantly raising concerns with our allies and seeking help/support from the organisation, our network has managed to gain the trust of our BAME colleagues. I feel they are now more prepared and braver to highlight the issues they are facing and in return, they expect changes and improvement. However due to lack of resources and needing a whole culture shift, the progress is not at the expected pace. Sometimes this results in a colleague either losing trust or leaving the job.

I know we have come far but I feel we have miles more to go before we can get it right for everyone. The battle is ongoing and real…

Darren Castle-Beal – Co-chair, Pride Network

Picture of Darren Castle-Beal
Darren Castle-Beal – Co-chair, Pride Network

Hello, my name is Darren. I have been with the trust for eight years in the pharmacy directorate.

I have been a part of the Pride Network since 2021, taking part in a mix of events which have been extremely rewarding. I have more recently been lucky enough to be voted to be a co-chair of the Pride Network which is a personal achievement and professional development for my career.

Pride is about people coming together in celebration, protest, unity, and solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community and the drive behind our Pride Network is to keep diversity and inclusivity as a major part of everyday life of all who work here. I would like to maintain and improve the relationships across the Network and the whole trust, listening to issues and solutions to minimise the barriers which our LGBTQ+ staff members experience.

Our latest NHS staff survey results showed that only nine of our directorates scored above average in the diversity and equality sub score of the peoples promise (We are compassionate and inclusive). This shows that there is a large amount of improving to be carried out to make the important changes required.

Living as a gay man in their thirties in 2023 is noticeably an improvement to those who lived and grew up through the earlier times. It is thanks to those people, who remained strong and fought, that we have the rights we have and deserve. However we still have a long journey ahead of us and I am passionate about driving that change and making it safer for LGBTQ+ people in the present and future. I am fortunate enough to have a strong circle around me – my husband, family, friends, and colleagues but I know that this is not always the same for many of my colleagues.

I plan to use the platform within the Pride Network for my voice to be heard; to help drive forward the Network and make our staff feel included and heard. I’m sure that as staff feel more included, we will see improvements in the service we give our patients.

I will leave you with a section of my wedding speech. “No matter who you identify as or what you believe in, just remember that you count, you matter, you are heard, and you are loved. Everyone counts and love will always win.”

Steven Hewitt – Co-chair, Enabled Staff Network

Picture of Steven Hewitt
Steven Hewitt – Co-chair, Enabled Staff Network

Receiving an adult diagnosis of a specific learning disability while working within further education was difficult, but in comparison to the prejudice that I faced after the diagnosis it was easy. My personal experience since joining the Trust in November 2019 is one of support, acceptance, and growth.

Our ENABLED Staff Network has been involved in the creation of some wonderful supportive materials like the guide to Neurodiversity and the Health and Wellbeing Passports which can truly enhance the experience at work and can help people to truly flourish at Newcastle Hospitals.

As an educator and proud neurodivergent I am passionate about ensuring that everyone has access to learning, spaces and the workplace. As a Trust we are a Disability Confident Employer, and like all accolades the hard work doesn’t stop when the accreditation is awarded – it is a continual effort to keep it and advance. We have much more work to do to across all levels, processes and working practices to truly be a Disability Confident Employer.

One example is how we create a psychologically safe environment where colleagues feel free to disclose any disabilities and how we collect and use this information. From an education perspective this would allow us to offer bespoke reasonable adjustments to suit the needs of the individual. Other areas for growth include the way we recruit, induct and support colleagues considering a standardised approach to reasonable adjustments.

My positive experience in the Trust isn’t always the experience that everyone has. That is why it’s so important that we have staff networks, where we can share our lived experience and influence change within practice and the wider workforce. We are on the right path but still have a long way to go.

Mark Ellerby-Hedley – Co-Chair, Pride Staff Network

Picture of Mark Ellerby-Hedley.
Mark Ellerby-Hedley – Co-Chair, Pride Staff Network

I faced a lot of stigma and discrimination at work during my time working as a supermarket manager, my staff were great and really supportive but senior managers were less so. During my time working for Newcastle Hospitals, it has been a completely different story, everyone I’ve come into contact with has been fantastic and very supportive. I love the fact I can be myself and not have to worry about what people will think.

The introduction of the LGBT Staff Network (now known as the Pride Staff Network) in 2015 has been really positive, I have been co-chair since the staff network was set up and it’s a privilege to be part of it and having the continued support of senior management in the Trust is really important.

The Trust’s involvement in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, a definitive benchmarking tool for employers to measure their progress on LGBT inclusion in the workplace, was a huge step forward. Each year we were able to demonstrate our work in eight areas of employment policy and practice. Staff from across the organisation were also able to complete an anonymous survey about their experiences of diversity and inclusion at work. Each year based on our submission feedback we were able to understand what we were doing well and where we needed to focus our efforts. In 2020/21, our last years of being involved, we were very proud to have made the Top 100 Employer list out of nearly 500 organisations across the UK.

Even though this was a fantastic achievement we should never assume the job is done. As a Trust we need to continue our work to make Newcastle Hospitals a place where our staff and patients, no matter who they are, feel safe.

One example from a Pride Staff Network where we are implementing change is the issue of the term ‘Homosexuality’ being used as either an option, or the only option for gay/bisexual men to describe their sexual orientation on some patient registration forms. ‘Homosexual’ is an outdated description which refers to times when being Homosexual was classified as a mental health condition, thankfully (though hugely belatedly) the World Health Organisation (WHO) declassified it as a mental illness in 1992, and the UK government removed it from the list of psychiatric disorders in 1994. But still the term is being used. Recently the New Croft Sexual Health Service conducted several patient engagement events looking into how questions regarding sexual orientation and gender can be asked in a more inclusive way, the use of ‘Homosexuality’ was one of the terms that came up in discussions and how this made people feel when filling in registration forms. Thankfully with the support of our senior executive team things are now starting to change and we are now looking at all registration forms and changes will be made where needed.

I’d like to encourage anyone who would like to join us and become part of the Pride Staff Network to do so, it will give you an opportunity to have a voice and suggest ways in which the Trust can improve the working environment, so more people feel comfortable being ‘out’ at work.

More recently things have changed in a positive way, but we must never forget these changes have only happened because LGBTQ+ people have stood up for equality. My thanks go out to those who fought for what many now take for granted.

To find out more or to become a member of a staff network contact details are below:

The next staff network meeting dates are as follows:

  • Race Equalities network meets every other Friday and the next meeting is Friday 19 May, 12-1pm
  • Enabled staff network meet the third Wednesday of every 2 month, the next meeting is Wednesday 17 May 1 – 2pm. The network also have a tea and talk session every two weeks as a drop in teams chat every Thursday 12.30 – 1pm the next session is Thursday 11 May.
  • Pride staff network meet the second Thursday of every 2 month, the next meeting is Thursday 8 June 1 – 2pm.

If you would like to find out more or get involved, please contact the EDI team here: [email protected]

International Day of the Midwife

Today is also International Day of the Midwife an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the vital work of our wonderful team of midwives here at Newcastle Hospitals. I want to pay special thanks to our entire midwifery team today for all that they do and for continuing to go above and beyond to care for women and their families.

Celebrating Excellence Awards

Last month we launched our 2023 Celebrating Excellence Awards, there are 15 categories you can nominate colleagues in and – in honour of NHS 75 – we have included a Lifetime Achievement Award. You can nominate an individual or team in the following categories:

  • Team of the Year (Frontline / Clinical / Clinical Support)
  • Clinician of the Year (Frontline / Clinical / Clinical Support)
  • Team of the Year (Support and Corporate Services)
  • Unsung Hero (Support and Corporate Services)
  • Rising Star
  • Partnership Working
  • Quality Improvement and Patient Safety
  • Innovation, Transformation and Research
  • The Shine Award (Sustainable Healthcare in Newcastle)
  • Valued and Heard
  • Championing Equality
  • Volunteer of the Year
  • Charity Supporter of the Year
  • Apprentice / Trainee of the Year
  • Lifetime Achievement Award (NHS75)

As always, everyone working in the trust should be eligible for at least one category and we are also giving people the opportunity to recognise the huge contribution our volunteers and charity supporters make to the trust.

So please tell us who you think deserves to be recognised for the real difference they make to patients or the people they work with.

The closing date for nominations is Friday 2 June 2023. You can submit a nomination for the awards here.

Awards and achievements

  • UK National GO Awards – Congratulations to the Trust Procurement Team who have been shortlisted as a finalist at this year’s UK National GO Awards. The GO Awards are the UK’s leading public procurement excellence awards. The Trust Procurement Team are finalists in the Infrastructure or Capital Project 22/23 category, for the Integrated Covid Hub North East (ICHNE) entry.

    Picture of Audrey Tapang, Senior Nurse for International Recruitment, stood on the grass at the Royal Garden Party.
    Audrey Tapang, Senior Nurse for International Recruitment
  • Royal Garden Party – Audrey Tapang,Senior Nurse for International Recruitment was honoured to be invited to attend the first of three Royal Garden Parties to celebrate the forthcoming coronation of King Charles III. Audrey was nominated to represent the Trust in recognition of her commitment to leading the organisation’s international recruitment offer, a role she has excelled in to such a degree that she won last year’s Nursing Times Overseas Nurse of the Year Award. You can find out more here.