Creating a great place to work

Recovery and restart blocks

It’s been almost two weeks since the Prime Minister set out the roadmap to ‘steadily reclaim our lives’ and gave us some hope for a return to the elements of life that we have missed so much – like shops, restaurants, hairdressers and, most importantly, the chance to see our families and friends.

The Chief Medical Officers also announced last week that the covid alert level has been reduced from level 5 to level 4, meaning that the threat to the NHS is reducing and we are very clearly moving in the right direction in controlling the pandemic.

This, of course, means that we need to focus on what recovering from these pressures means for us. Over the next few weeks I will use this blog to share my thoughts and our plans about these next steps and wanted to start to do that by talking about how we can support the team here to recover.

‘Recovery’ will have many different associations and be used in many different ways over the coming year. Some will associate it with the ongoing relaxation of the restrictions that have become a part of our lives over the last year or the ongoing vaccination programme that is currently vaccinating around 25,000 people each day across the North East and North Cumbria and will grow even more as second doses begin to be administered.

Others will think about the recovery of our waiting list backlog, where as an NHS we have the longest number of patients waiting over a year for treatment – around 224,000 since 2008 – and the largest waiting list since records began at 4.5m.

Each of these on their own could be daunting but we are doing it together and as a team – whether that is with your immediate team on your ward, across the trust, with colleagues across the city or wider North East in other hospitals and social care, or across the whole NHS. Colleagues in your position across the UK – and indeed the world – will be facing the same challenges as we recover.

We also have the benefit of having experienced some of this recovery work during the last twelve months and should take some comfort from that.

Last year, thanks to your amazing efforts, we were able to return to around 85-90% of our pre-covid activity within just 3 months – and as we exit this third wave we are starting from a much stronger position than last June.

To recover successfully together, it’s crucial that we create the best possible environment for everyone to work in which enables each of us to thrive and flourish. This is the route through which we can ensure that our collective recovery is rightly focussed on how we can together deliver the most effective and compassionate care for our patients. This is what drives me to do the best I can every day, and I know each of you will feel the same.

Our progress

I’m very proud that we have made some significant developments in the culture of our organisation in the last 2 years. I’ve had positive feedback from many people who feel more able to shareFlourish wheel outlining areas of focus ideas and be listened to at work, and more able to fully be themselves.

Our flourish programme has given us an important framework to work from and I have always been clear that flourish@NewcastleHospitals isn’t only about health and wellbeing. It’s about everything that makes working here in Newcastle unique – it’s how we do things around here, encompassing our values and the culture we want to build.

I’ve spent time this week examining the results of our staff survey. Every year we receive the results a short time before they are published nationally so that we can carry out our own review and evaluation. Yesterday we shared the results with staff teams in a focussed event which of course was held virtually. The full national results are expected to be published next week on 11 March.

The survey gives us a good measure of how we are doing across a number of different areas of staff experience. It’s good to see those areas where we are making improvements but even more important to understand those areas where we need to do much more. I’m very grateful to nearly half of our entire team – 7,072 members of staff – who shared their views in October and November – the height of our second wave. I can assure you that we will learn everything we can from the views you submitted.

Crucially though, as we emerge from the third wave of the pandemic, we need to go much further and deeper in supporting our people. The world has changed substantially and I want to start to build a stronger and more substantial programme of work to support staff which starts with where people are now, acknowledging the extreme year we have had.

Our roadmap

A few weeks ago the Kings Fund published a really useful and important article focussing on recovery and resilience, and what lessons we can learn for ourselves.

What stuck out for me was their analysis that ‘the path to recovery is not linear’. Our reactions we live through the next weeks and months will include highs and lows. The below picture, adapted for Newcastle Hospitals, sets this out.

It’s is important to me that we recognise this and reflect on it as we recover and continue our mission to make Newcastle Hospitals the best place to work. I think our roadmap should focus around the following 3 stages:

  1. I want to start this by listening and learning from your experiences, your views and your insights. We can only move ahead positively if we go together and understand where it is that we need to go.
  2. I want us to use this opportunity to make a significant step change in our culture so that Newcastle really can be the best and most equal place to work. Together we’ve seen the pace of change and innovation in our services accelerate hugely over the past 12 months; our new cataract service (which I will share more about in my next blog) is a great example of transformational thinking to address the old challenge of lack of capacity with a radically new solution to almost double our pre-covid capacity.
  3. I would like us to pursue the same ambition in the experience we have at work. I want us to challenge ourselves further to understand how we change the things that have previously been difficult so that we can harness and focus our efforts. This has to be about much more than warm words. It’s important to me that we use a rigorous evidence based approach which includes clear measurement and the ability to track changes and progress.

Whatever we do should help us to challenge the inequalities that exist in the organisation, so that we quickly see an improvement in the experience of those who struggle the most. This is a time to freely admit that we don’t have the answers to some of the challenges that face us. Our usual processes won’t work in the same way because of the unusual circumstances we find ourselves in.

Creating the best work environment that we can is going to take some time, but I want to assure you that we are working quickly and committing time and resources to this endeavour and specifically considering what we can put in place to listen to you. We will be building this in the coming weeks with your input, and will be in a position to set out our specific actions and commitments in April.

In the meantime, there are some things I’d like to encourage everyone to think about.

Please try to get some rest where you can. If you are able to, please take some holiday, and try to prioritise your own restoration. We’ve extended the amount of annual leave that can be carried over to 10 days (plus your 1 extra covid day), and hopefully this will enable people to work flexibly over the turn of the financial year to maximise the breaks you can get.

Also, please think about what you need to help your own peace of mind during these last few weeks of lockdown. Could you make the most of the lighter morning to get some exercise? Could you look back to our sleep resources to help you get your 8 hours a night? Sometimes it’s the basics that can have the biggest impact on how we feel.

Once again, if you do need some help, please don’t hesitate to ask. All of our wellbeing resources including self-help guides, mindfulness apps, online and in person support are included in our staff wellbeing pages.

And finally, can I once again say a heartfelt thank you for all of your ongoing hard work. You are very much appreciated.

LGBT History Month

February was LGBT History month where we not only acknowledged LGBT history but also celebrated our differences. In light of current covid restrictions, our LGBT staff network held a number of virtual sessions which were also accessible to those who work shifts or who are based in the community.Progress flag flying at the Freeman Hospital

While over 5,000 members of staff now wear a rainbow badge this doesn’t mean that all of our LGBT+ colleagues or patients are no longer afraid to be who they are at work or when accessing our services. The Progress flag, which was raised at the Freeman and RVI to mark the event, includes a five coloured chevron that places greater emphasis on inclusion and progression with the additional colours representing marginalised LGBT communities of colour and the transgender community.

It’s important that everyone recognises that – more often than not – those who identify with more than one minority may experience greater discrimination and stigma and, by raising the flag, we hope it has provided visual assurance for anyone who identifies as LGBT+ that Newcastle Hospitals is a safe place to express identity.

Tessa Jowell Centre of Excellence

Earlier this week we received the great news that our brain tumour centre had become a national ‘Tessa Jowell Centre of Excellence’.Newcastle Hospitals Neuro oncology team at the RVI

This newly introduced status, awarded by the Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Mission, follows rigorous expert-led assessments, and recognises the outstanding care and treatment staff at the Trust provide for patients with brain cancer.

Our cancer services here in Newcastle have a fantastic reputation, which is very much down to our talented teams and state-of-the-art technology we have invested in here in the North East.

To receive national recognition as one the top brain tumour centres in the country is testament to the commitment and compassion of our wonderful neuro-oncological team and I’m incredibly proud so see them recognised in this way. You can read more about the news here.

Awards and achievements

  • Congratulations to our theatre teams who were recognised for their innovative approach to promoting patient safety and preventing ‘never events’ through education, training and improved communication by Safer Surgery UK.
  • The Trust has achieved Maintaining Excellence in the Better Health at Work Awards – highlighting our determination to keep the delivery of staff health and wellbeing activity going throughout the pandemic.