Changing Perspective

This week marks a special anniversary for me as on 5th October I will have worked in the NHS for 40 years. During the last few weeks I have been reflecting on how things have changed over those years and how much has endured.

I began my career in the NHS as a student nurse – knowing from that first day that this was exactly where I wanted to be. I valued the learning and the experience it brought. Every day was unique – a rich array of people with varied needs.

The NHS is built around people, those who work here and those we care for and treat. I have felt that connection to people since I joined. It’s because of this connection that many of us experience a range of emotions each and every day. Often we feel the joy of being able to bring comfort or relief from pain and suffering or our ability to open up new possibilities for our patients. This is at times mixed with the angst of sometimes knowing there is a limit to what can be done. It’s a rollercoaster of emotion because we care.

The ten years I spent clinically were some of the most rewarding of my career, even though there were days that were incredibly tough. I was recently talking with a ward team at the Freeman Hospital when a staff nurse asked me if I missed nursing. I said without hesitation “often” – and I really do, I often reflect back on my days as a nurse with pride and satisfaction.

So why did I move from frontline care?

As a ward sister I recognised the difference good leadership could make for patients and the team of staff caring for them. I also noticed the wards where the leadership was lacking and the consequences of how that played out for staff and patients alike.

From very early in my career, I understood the importance of creating the right climate or culture for staff, so that they were able to be the best version of themselves. I appreciated that creating these conditions meant the outcomes for patients and their families were significantly better. What gave me great joy was that patients who received care on “my ward” – for years later would tell my dad what a difference it made to them. Along with my team I experienced enormous pride that came from seeing the lifelong impact of positive patient experience. Recognising that, I moved into management because I believed I could make a difference to quality of care on a bigger scale.

Our patients and staff and our families and friends all have a lifelong relationship with the NHS. When care and treatment is good, it has such a powerful effect. When it is not to the standard it should be it can be devastating – for the individual and those around them.

I learnt a lot as a Director at the mid-point in my career. I began to understand the complexity of leading in large NHS organisations. I also tuned into the political dynamics linked to our NHS. At the time I was leading significant service reconfiguration in a mining community supported by several high profile female MPs serving in the early Blair Government. Those challenges of balancing clinical quality across a wide geographical area with local provision remain one of the major concerns in many areas today.

I became a CEO aged 39 and the last 19 years have been challenging and varied.  Every year I have consolidated learning and constantly sought to develop myself as a leader. I’ve led small speciality trusts, district general hospitals of varying sizes and a social care and mental health provider before coming to Newcastle.

Every job has of course held its own challenges. The golden thread through these years has been an appreciation that organisational culture is vitally important. Building it isn’t easy and takes time, and there are many elements of it that are important –  leadership, strategy, good governance as well as a relentless focus on creating the environment where each individual can be their authentic selves and give their best work, whatever role they fulfil. Creating a climate where everyone – staff and patients alike – feels valued and supported.

When I began in the NHS we didn’t talk much about values and compassion, diversity and inclusion. They existed, of course, but were not universally recognised and this wasn’t necessarily a focus for leaders or organisations. Today, I remain optimistic that many more leaders at every level in our NHS are talking and acknowledging that these things matter, and matter the most. The NHS today is a kinder and more compassionate NHS.

Inevitably I have experienced pressured periods over my forty years and I know that my perspective and judgement has changed as my experience has grown. What we are experiencing now, after over 18 months of this cruel pandemic is in a different league. The legacy that covid has left on our NHS people is huge and it had been very distressing to hear the stories and testimonies from staff. I’m grateful to be able to call upon so many years of my own experience and that of those around me to help tackle this situation.

It is our NHS people who have made all of my experiences over the last 40 years so worthwhile. Supporting you and your teams continues to be my major focus as the NHS – and society as a whole – recover over the years ahead.  If I have learned one thing over the course of my career to date, it is that we can achieve much more together than alone.

I understand that our work over the next few years will be tough. Having said that, I am confident that the commitment we have here in Newcastle will drive us to continue to provide the very best care for our patients.

Operational update

The last fortnight has continued to be incredibly pressured right across the Trust.  Monday 27 September was our busiest ever day in the Emergency Department with over 800 attendances including 500 type 1 patients (those patients seen in the main RVI emergency department). I know that the whole organisation is impacted by this relentless pressure from urgent and emergency activity and this is continuing to have a significant impact on the elective recovery programme.

I want to acknowledge the incredible effort that everyone is giving to support our patients, and I know that you are equally supporting each other in these difficult times.

Please be assured that collectively we are working hard to help, whether that is by seeking new funding for new models of care and improvements, minimising the burden of administrative tasks and looking at ways to make life at work easier. I am particularly grateful to those who are working additional shifts and who have moved from their usual jobs to support their colleagues. Please continue to raise suggestions that might help with your managers and directorates.

Annual Members Meeting

We’re proud of our achievements this year and earlier this week we held our Annual Members Meeting to reflect upon the things we’ve done well and how we can continue to learn and improve the quality of care we offer. You can watch our video here.

Keeping staff safe

I was amazed to hear the numbers of staff who have been supported by our IPC and test and trace teams in recent months.

Since February 2020, 20723 staff and household PCR tests have been carried out and since 6 July 2021 603 risk assessments for COVID contacts have been completed to enable staff to return to work sooner, this includes;

  • 196 potential household contacts
  • 142 other contacts
  • 252 proximity alerts

On top of that, in June alone, 1332 rapid response cleans have been completed by our domestic team!

Thank you all for your outstanding work.

Rainbow Badges

The NHS Rainbow Badge is one of the most successful and widespread initiatives in raising LGBT+ awareness across the NHS. I am delighted that Newcastle Hospitals were the only Trust to be awarded a silver grading in the phase two pilot – recognising our work to support LGBT+ inclusion.

Gradings are linked to objectives around LGBT awareness and inclusion within NHS organisations, ensuring that Trusts are implementing the relevant staff training, monitoring, inclusive policies and support for LGBT staff and patients to drive a supportive work and clinical environment.

Staff Survey

Each year we invite all of our staff to take part in the NHS Staff Survey so that we can find out what matters to you, what makes a good work day and what we need to do to improve.

Your feedback can help to deliver real change across our organisation and help to make Newcastle Hospitals the best place to work.

The survey is completely anonymous as it is important that we are all able to share our honest thoughts and feelings about working here. I know that the last 18 months have been challenging for us all and that there is still a lot of work to be done but there are also some great examples of positive changes taking place across the Trust.

All staff will receive an email from Quality Health inviting them to take part in the survey today so please take the time to fill it in.

North East passes four million threshold for Covid testing and vaccinations

NHS teams at the region’s Lighthouse lab and Covid vaccination programme have each passed the four million threshold for turning around fast test results and covid vaccinations.

Just six months after launching, the 600-strong lab team has processed four million tests, which have come in from the north east and beyond.

While the vaccinations team has provided four million jabs for people across the north east and north Cumbria, protecting them from the virus and ultimately saving lives.

Find out more about the hub here.

International Day for Older Persons

Today is International Day for Older Persons 2021. We are raising awareness of the effects of inactivity and deconditioning of older patients whilst in hospital and the benefits of activity and exercise.

Róisín Fallen-Bailey, physiotherapist in older people’s medicine at Newcastle Hospitals was recently awarded an NIHR Pre-doctoral Clinical Academic Fellowship (PCAF) to develop and evaluate approaches to patient activity and function decline in older adults and has developed.

Róisín and Occupational Therapist, Catherine Thomas, developed this short animation which will be shown to new starters in the Trust as part of the preceptorship programme, to raise awareness of deconditioning.


This week our three teams shortlisted for HSJ Awards shared their presentations with the judging panel. As well as being named as a finalist in the Acute or Specialist Trust of the Year award we were also shortlisted in the following categories;

  • Outstanding Contribution to Healthcare – Newcastle Collaborative
  • Connecting Services and Information / Provider Collaboration of the Year – The Great North Care Record (on behalf of North East and North Cumbria ICS)

Congratulations also to Kim Williams-Davies, Infection Prevention and Control nursing assistant who is a Royal Collage of Nursing finalist in the outstanding contribution to IPS category for her work to support staff to keep themselves and others safe during the pandemic.

Our finance and procurement team were also nominated for awards at the NEP national conference including;

  • Procurement Innovation award – First place for the Purchasing Team for truly embracing the NEP Cloud solution.
  • Personal Achievement award – Second place for Keith Vusthoff for leading on the implementation of two catalogue solutions, the roll out of EUR and the implementation of PEPPOL.
  • Finance Innovation award – Third place for the Accounts Payable team.
  • Outstanding Employee – Third place for Adam Morrison who demonstrated a natural aptitude for the work following his apprenticeship, developing his skills in the Systems Team.

And finally

I wanted to leave you with this picture from Andrew Villis of the rainbow over the Freeman Hospital last week. After we had all been so shocked by the appalling vandalism and graffiti, this inspiring image appeared at the perfect moment.

It reminded me that hate will never win and that we should all be proud of everything we are achieving together.