Connecting and delivering

As the challenges upon every part of the trust remain high, the executive team and leaders throughout the organisation are doing everything they can to stay close to frontline and essential services so that we can understand the changing situation and offer effective support. It’s remarkable that in every area, our teams are continuing to make improvements to the way we work and the care we provide, despite the significant pressures.

Recently, I spent the afternoon visiting our surgical wards at the RVI and was humbled and inspired by my conversations with the whole team – from enthusiastic students and newly qualified nurses, to experienced specialists and ward sisters who are at the peak of their career.

I was able to see the surgical assessment unit, a pilot service which opened in May 2022. This service takes referrals directly from GPs and from the emergency department and assesses patients who might need to undergo surgery due to conditions like abdominal pain. The team were anticipating around 10 patients per day being seen initially, but from the beginning between 30 – 40 have been supported each day, with about 25 to 30% of them needing to be admitted to hospital for surgery.

As the unit undergoes a six-month evaluation, it was clear to see the positive impact on patient care from this new approach. As well as a much better patient experience, and improved flow through the emergency department and wider hospital, they have introduced new roles, including the first surgical assessment practitioner, and have enhanced skills for many members of the team.

Across the surgical wards collectively, what stood out was the enthusiasm and pride of the team and their leaders – the Matron Hayley Robinson, and ward sisters Angela Smith, Phillippe Sardinha, Anna Ingledew and Sister Vena Leach were all credit to the trust. They talked passionately about the achievements of their teams, the obstacles they continue to overcome and the approach that all members of staff have taken to support each other.

As a former surgical ward sister myself, I felt a particular bond with these colleagues, and I am truly proud of them. They were optimistic, yet realistic, and positive about the strength of their teams. They took responsibility for their roles and extended that responsibility when it was needed. They talked about the need to have clear, high expectations, whilst showing kindness to each other, and ensuring excellent, repeated communications to keep everyone safe and included.

I thought of these colleagues when I met recently with the NHS England Board to talk to them about leadership in the NHS and what this means for me personally, and they helped me to reflect on the individual impact that each of us can bring.

Each day, and especially at times of pressure, I ask myself how I can bring my best. What is the best way for me to contribute?  How can we stay in the right mindset and discipline for each of us to feel well, so that we can be our most effective and most supportive to our colleagues?

I also met last week with senior clinical and managerial leaders in the trust at our regular trust management group and considered some of these questions. Our job as leaders is to make sure that we look at every aspect of our responsibilities including high-quality patient care, supporting our staff, waiting times, front of house access, partnership working, managing our resources effectively – each element is vital. As leaders we also have to constantly connect and engage to really hear, see and understand.

We are living and working in unprecedented times and experiencing the legacy of the pandemic, limited resources, unrelenting pressure and also the likely impact of industrial action. Each day, we are doing our very best with the hands we are dealt and taking as much control as we can. Across the organisation, we have vast experience, technical skill, knowledge and a well-earned reputation for excellence that stands us in good stead – and it’s a credit to everyone in the team that we continue to be curious so that we can keep challenging ourselves.

Although its sometimes easier to focus on our difficulties, there are also endless examples of fantastic achievements which are equally important.

In diagnostics we’ve seen a significant reduction in MRI & CT waits to scan and report, and in cardiac services there has been a similar reduction in waiting times for echocardiogram.

We’re increasing the throughput of elective procedures by ensuring effective pre-assessment, so that patients are fully prepared and as well as they can be before they arrive for surgery – and reducing cancellations.

Our new Day Treatment Centre team (which you can find out more about in this video) have got off to a great start – reaching or exceeding their activity targets for first two months and receiving some fantastic patient feedback as well.

In cancer services, the introduction of teledermatology across all of primary care and our virtual review model means that we can see many more patients, more quickly. It’s taken a huge effort to get the thousands of referrals we get for skin cancer seen, but the team have now got many skin cancer waits down to under 2 weeks.

There’s also been a huge effort to clear the backlog of CT colon scans and in urology the team have introduced a ‘straight to test’ bladder pathway to make sure that we minimise delays.

It’s important to remember that while there is huge pressure, there is also hope. We continue to deliver for patients as best we can. I certainly know that there isn’t a better team anywhere else in the UK, and this is a team that I am very proud to be a part of. Thank you for all of your hard work.

CQC visit

On 30 November and 1 December, we were visited by the CQC for an unannounced inspection. Thank you to everyone who contributed to that visit by sharing their knowledge and expertise with inspectors. We are likely to receive their findings in the new year.

Industrial action

The RCN have informed us that they will be taking industrial action on Thursday 15 and Tuesday 20 December as part of their dispute with the Government. During these periods, our first focus will, as ever, be on protecting patients and maintaining as much safe and effective care as possible for them, prioritising those with the most severe illness.

As I write this, our senior nursing and operational teams are working closely with the RCN representatives to negotiate how we will deliver services safely, reflecting the complex and interconnected pathways that we provide as a major tertiary centre. These detailed discussions will be ongoing throughout the next week and will continue on days when action is taken.

I want to acknowledge that I have heard directly from nursing colleagues that they have made the decision to take industrial action with a heavy heart and appreciate how difficult this must be for them. Detailed information for all staff, will be shared in the operational update and on a dedicated section on our intranet.

New Clinical Decisions Unit

I’m looking forward to visiting our new clinical decisions unit at the RVI next week which opened to patients on Monday afternoon – thanks to the hard work of our clinical teams and estates.

This dedicated facility, which has capacity to treat up to 10 people, aims to provide support to patients who are medically stable, had most of their care completed and are likely to go home but are waiting for things such as transport, a hospital transfer, blood tests, a mobility assessment or specialty review.

As well as improving the patient experience in terms of privacy, dignity and comfort, it also helps to free up space in our busy Emergency Department, reducing corridor care and improving safety. Again this is another fantastic example of how our teams continue to adapt and look at innovative ways to do our very best for patients.


It was wonderful to see so many colleagues get into the festive spirit with Christmas jumpers and socks yesterday – one of our therapy dogs, Daisy, even joined in on Ward 2a at the GNCH.

Thank you also to all of the panto stars at the Theatre Royal who came in this week to visit the children on Ward 23 at the Freeman – it was lovely to see their faces light up seeing them all and I’m sure it will be a treasured memory.


Let’s Give

Today is our collection day for all those donating items to the Newcastle West End Foodbank and Newcastle Dog and Cat Shelter. I know this is a challenging time of year so I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has taken part and supported Let’s Give this Christmas.

Don’t forget all donations must be dropped off today. Our courier will collect from the following places at the allocated times below, please note these are guide times only:

  • Regent Point, next to reception, 9.30am
  • Freeman, main reception area, 9.55am
  • Community, Geoffrey Rhodes, 10.15am
  • RVI, Peacock Hall, 10.40am
  • Lumen, 11am
  • Centre for Life, 11.15am
  • CAV, Newcastle Centre for Diabetes Care, 11.30am

Our staff in Cumbria are also collecting items for Animal Concern Cumbria and Salvation Army Whitehaven. For a reminder of what items are needed and for posters to display in your areas, please visit the intranet.

Christmas Treats

To spread a little Christmas cheer, staff can enjoy some festive treats next week, thanks to funding from Newcastle Hospitals Charity. The trust has arranged for a mobile Barista coffee van – called Really Awesome Coffee – to visit the following sites and provide staff with a free hot drink and treat. Simply show your NHS badge, one drink and treat per staff member:

  • Monday 12 December – RVI, Peacock Hall: 9.30am – 3pm
  • Tuesday 13 December – Freeman, outside the Institute of Transplantation: 9.30am – 3pm
  • Wednesday 14 December – 10am-12 Regent Point, outside the main entrance: 2pm-4pm, Campus for Aging and Vitality, in front of old A&E

For some of our teams who are unable to get to these sites a selection of festive cupcakes and muffins will be available for colleagues on Wednesday 14 December in the community (distributed from Geoffrey Rhodes), in theatres, nightshift staff, those at the Lumen and Centre for Life, as well as our sites in Cumbria.

Festive illuminations

It is a great pleasure to see our hospitals once again lit up with festive lights, bringing some much-appreciated sparkle to our staff, patients and visitors. A big thank you to everyone who braved the cold to attend the switch-on ceremonies last week.

Thank you also to everyone who helped make the festive illuminations happen, including organisers Newcastle Hospitals Charity, our fantastic estates and catering teams, MK Illuminations, local corporate charity supporters, plus our VIPs from the Theatre Royal, local schools, Star Wars cosplayers North East Legion and of course, our young patients who helped switch on the lights. It was a real team effort.

Newcastle Building Society

I visited the headquarters of Newcastle Building Society this week in the company of Lady Elsie Robson and two of her sons, Andrew and Mark.

A very special occasion, we were celebrating Newcastle Building Society’s incredible 10 years of support for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, one of our Newcastle Hospitals Charity funds, and an amazing £3m donated to help find more effective ways to detect and treat cancer. A team effort I have no doubt Sir Bobby would be thrilled about.

To mark this magnificent achievement, I was proud to join Lady Elsie and Stuart Miller, Chief Customer Officer at Newcastle Building Society, to unveil a bench that will make its way into the garden when the warmer months arrive. I have no doubt it will become a favourite place for their staff to sit and enjoy the beautiful landscaping around their workplace.

HFEA Chair visit

We were delighted to welcome Julia Chain the Chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to the Newcastle Fertility Centre. The team were delighted to show Julia around the centre and talk about the services we offer our patients.

Awards and achievements

Our staff continue to be recognised at local and national level for the fantastic work they do. Congratulations to the following:

  • Jessica Higginson received a Cavell Nurses’ Trust Star Award for her outstanding approach to consistently providing the highest quality patient care, particularly to those receiving palliative and end of life care. Her award highlights the depth and breadth of care provided by our community teams and truly demonstrates our nursing values.
  • Kerry Puga, Deputy Matron for Community Nursing has been named a Queen’s Nurse – an accolade which is only granted to highly dedicated community nurses who can demonstrate their commitment to providing the highest standards of practice and care.
  • Nurse Consultant Alison Armstrong has been appointed as the first non-medic to take up a national position with the British Thoracic Society as the new Chair of its Education and Training Committee.
  • Lisa Morgan, healthcare assistant and family-centred care lead at the Freeman Hospital’s Cardiothoracic Centre has received one of the very first Chief Nursing Officer’s Healthcare Support Worker awards in recognition of her “Commitment to quality of care”.
  • Our teams are three finalists in the HSJ Partnerships Awards. In the Environmental Sustainability Project of the Year category, both the ICS Clean Air Partnership (a collaboration between the Trust, Boehringer Ingelheim and Global Action Plan) and our international collaboration to bring an NHS first in nitrous oxide tackling technology (a partnership between the trust, BPR Medical and Medclair) have been shortlisted. While in the HealthTech Partnership of the Year award, Newcastle Hospitals is one of a number of trusts in the region to be shortlisted with Health Call Solutions for their Innovate, Digitise, Transform programme.