COP26 – our chance to make an impact

Next week sees the start of the 26th ‘Conference of the Parties’ or COP26. This important summit, which takes place in Glasgow, will see the world come together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and to inspire global action to tackle the climate crisis. Most experts believe that COP26 has a unique urgency and is the world’s best chance to get the climate crisis under control.

I’m very proud that we were the first health organisation in the world to recognise the critical role that we have to play in tackling the climate crisis by declaring a climate emergency in 2019. In doing this, we recognised:

  • The harm that healthcare makes on the planet – the NHS produces 5% of the UK’s carbon footprint.
  • The harm that climate crisis and air pollution has on the health of those we care for.

But importantly, our declaration offers the hope of change for the future and recognises the positive impact that we can have by uniting our collective strengths to take action. We have seen many examples of action over the last 10 years including reducing the volatile anaesthetic gases that we use, introducing meat free Mondays, creating zero waste to landfill, significantly reducing car journeys and tackling the carbon emissions in our supply chain, which you can read about in the SHINE annual report.

We are making progress, and it’s easy to think that we are doing enough – but sadly that’s not the case. We know that we need to do much more to reach our target to be Net Zero Carbon for the emissions we control by 2030, and for the emissions we influence such as our supply chain by 2040.

Cyclists outside the Great North Children's Hospital holding a Newcastle Hospitals charity banner
From left to right: Teri Bayliss, James Dixon and Dr Mike McKean

This week, three members of our team – Dr Mike McKean Consultant in Respiratory Paediatrics at the Great North Children’s Hospital, Teri Bayliss, Charity Director and James Dixon, Associate Director, Sustainability – set off on an epic 800km cycle ride from London to COP26. The team includes 23 staff from children’s hospitals across the UK and health sector leaders. Their mission is to raise awareness of how air pollution and the climate crisis are causing illness and death, especially in children.

They are carrying an open letter to world leaders signed by organisations around the world (representing 45 million health professionals,) and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) COP26 Special Report on Climate Change and Health. Both documents spell out the many and inseparable links between climate and health, and call for urgent action. The documents were handed to the riders in London by Dr Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, head of WHO’s health and climate department, who brought them by cycle from Geneva.

I was delighted to welcome some of the riders as they arrived in Newcastle on Thursday. After several days of travelling, the team were clearly exhausted by their arduous challenge, but also driven by their focus on raising awareness of this crucial issue.

Dr McKean has been tweeting his reflections from the road this week about our oceans, forests and much more. You can follow him on twitter @DrMikeMckean or the hashtag #RideForTheirLives

Thank you to everyone who supported the team by taking part in the static cycle at the RVI, donating virtual miles, or sponsoring them. There is still time to show your support here.

If I needed another reminder about why this is important, it came from Ismail, who is a patient at the Great North Children’s Hospital. Ismail has been an inpatient for some time and had heard about our climate crisis work and our Shine programme.

He wrote to say that he was happy about the work that we are doing to raise awareness of the climate crisis, but he also challenged us to do more saying ‘I am sure that a world leading hospital like this one must be able to do more to reduce its carbon footprint?’

Ismail is indeed right – we can and must do more, both across the NHS and here in Newcastle.

This week we welcomed Amanda Pritchard, the Chief Executive of NHS England and Improvement, to the Trust specifically to look at the actions we’ve taken around carbon reduction and the climate emergency so that she can learn from our teams. Next week I will be at COP26 taking our experiences from Newcastle to a worldwide audience which I will report back in my next blog.

In the meantime I will leave you with Ismail’s thoughts;
‘Just think about it. We can’t let this go on for long, the planet is in danger. If it gets worse what will happen to the hospital and the patients?’

If you would like to find out more about the role you can play, please attend the series of webinars from the Trust, and from wider partners across the city. You can find out more information on our website here.

You can read our climate strategy here. Staff can also sign up to become a green champion by emailing nuth.environment@nhs.net

Building our green credentials into our future

Over the past few weeks, we’ve discussed our plans to build a new specialist hospital building on the RVI site at Trust Board and submitted the first stage of an application for funding to the Government. Alongside all the very welcome new space for services, and the practical and clinical benefits the new building will bring us, the project itself is an amazing opportunity for us to publicly demonstrate our commitment to minimising our impact on the planet.

From the outset, a key part of our thinking has been how to make this new building fit with our climate emergency commitment to become a net zero carbon organisation by 2040. We need the building project and the building itself to be an integral part of our action to deliver our Climate Emergency Strategy 2020 – 2025.

We’ve put sustainability at the heart of the project and set ourselves a target to achieve net zero carbon ‘in use’ and an outstanding rating from BREEAM, a world renowned sustainability rating that looks at all aspects of the build including energy, health and wellbeing, transport, pollution, land use and much more.

We want to provide environmentally sustainable state-of-the-art healthcare facilities for our patients. We have made a significant commitment to ensure that this new building will deliver on that ambition. With our very public commitment to achieving net zero, all eyes will rightly be on us as the project progresses.

The new specialist hospital building will provide a purpose built home for many of the highly specialist services we provide each year to thousands of patients from across our region and further afield who need specialist maternity, burns, critical care, infectious disease, and other services. It will be an iconic building and enable us to continue to put the needs of our patients at the heart of everything we do.
We are in the process of preparing an application for planning permission for the new building and we keep our fingers crossed that we get a favourable outcome from the Government’s New Hospitals Programme to fund this (early next year).

What matters to you?

Asking for feedback from staff is one of the most important ways for us to shape the future of our organisation and help us to understand what really matters to you.

Over the last few weeks all of our members of staff have been invited to take part in the 2021 NHS Staff Survey, and I want to say thank you to the 5085 staff who have responded so far.

Gathering your feedback is just one part of the staff survey. What is really important is how we respond to your feedback and make those changes to help steer us towards the future we all want. Across the Trust here are some great examples of changes and developments all driven forward by feedback from the survey including flexible working and smarter ways of working.

I wanted to share the great work our estates department have been developing with their staff. Estates managers have worked with staff to set up working groups, improve engagement and support staff to complete their survey and you can read more here.

Please take 15 minutes to share your views by clicking the unique link that has been sent to your email address from Quality Health.

Operational update

Although I’m highlighting the climate emergency in my blog this week, I always maintain a strong focus on the daily activity in our hospitals and wider community, and the particular pressures that everyone is feeling.

I chaired the second meeting of our ‘Newcastle Plan’ Board this week where we look at the many multidimensional challenges we need to tackle. I want to assure you that we are looking at at any – and every – solution to support teams under pressure. We are investing in services and staff and changing the way we work to respond to the current situations. I will highlight practical examples of the proactive work that many teams across the Trust are undertaking in future blogs.

Lighthouse Lab process 5 million tests

NHS teams at the Lighthouse lab have now processed over five million Covid tests, with samples coming in from the region and beyond.

The 800-strong lab team, part of the Integrated Covid Hub North East, which is hosted by Newcastle Hospitals, is turning around fast and accurate results, enabling the track and trace service to contact people in a timely way and support them to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves, their family and friends.

The co-ordination and response centre at the Covid hub is providing additional capacity for local councils to manage contact tracing through a dedicated call centre. In addition, information and data analysis services provided by the hub provide tailored insight to support councils with outbreak management and rapid response. More information about the hub is available here

Clinical entrepreneur programme – open to all staff

To continuously improve our services and care, I’m keen that we celebrate and implement innovative ideas about how to do things better or differently, to create a culture of innovation and enterprise across the organisation.

NHS staff have the expertise, skills and knowledge to identify improvements to tackle healthcare problems, but often the solutions end up being developed and marketed in the private sector.

The NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme exists to support clinical and non-clinical staff in bringing their innovative ideas to life, through providing access to commercial skills, expertise and resources. Since the programme started in 2016, around 700 participants have been offered support and guidance.

The programme’s real strength is that participants are encouraged to pursue their ideas within the health service – a ‘grow your own’ approach which brings benefits for healthcare improvement, job satisfaction and economic growth.

To fully demonstrate our support for the programme, I’m also proud to say Newcastle has been chosen as one of only nine trusts in to host testing and evaluation opportunities to shape and develop the ideas of programme participants from NHS organisations up and down the country. Applications to participate in this year’s cohort close on Tuesday 2 November – find out more here.

Awards and achievements

Infection Prevention Control (IPC) Hand Hygiene Month

The IPC team have been running a series of activities and competitions during Hand Hygiene Month to raise awareness of the importance of good hand hygiene.

This included running an audit competition for hand hygiene in wards and departments. Ward 33 at the Freeman put themselves forward for the challenge and scored very highly throughout winning them the prize.

In addition to this, the team challenged staff to create a video to educate others on

the ‘6 Steps for Hand Hygiene.’ ENT theatre team at the Freeman won the prize for creating the best video with this great entry. You can watch their video here.