Creating new science for the future

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the importance of clinical research into sharp focus for all of us – enabling new treatments to be developed, tested and approved in record time to treat a disease which was previously unknown, helping us to return to our previous lifestyles.

This experience has demonstrated very clearly the power of research to change lives and I’ve been very proud that Newcastle has been such a strong and influential part of the UK’s response to the virus. Over the last 18 months almost 4,500 patients have been recruited into 50 different covid studies here in Newcastle, with over 1,000 local people taking part in vaccine trials. This places us in the top 3 trusts in country and we are also a major contributor to strategic planning and discussions about covid research.

Newcastle has always been a global pioneer in research, and it’s an area where we excel, but there’s never been a better time to embed research further into the fabric of what we do. At our recent Board meeting, we approved a new strategy for clinical research at Newcastle Hospitals, setting out the next developments we would like to take to become one of the foremost research organisations in the world.

We have over 350 members of staff who work within the trust’s clinical research directorate, and many more who are delivering and contributing to research from within other Directorates. The new leadership team has brought a new perspective, enthusiasm and passion to this area and has supported the development of a strong and compelling strategy which reflects the importance of research to both the trust, the wider NHS, and to our patients.

Clinical research is key to the future of the NHS and the revolutions in care and treatment that we have within our reach. Precision medicine, AI, genomics, robotic surgery will all increasingly become part of everyday medicine, and all are built on the foundations of clinical research.

This is reflected in a recent government publication on clinical research which was released in March 2021 and sets out a new UK-wide vision for the NHS, academia, industry and the third sector. I’m delighted to say that our ‘virtual trial’ RELIEVE IBS-D features in this publication as an example of best practice. This was one of the first virtual trials in the world and recruited patients at a rate 27 times faster than the next nearest centre and you can read more about it here.

Being a world leader in scientific advancement is of course not an end in itself. It matters because of the impact that we know research has in improving health. There is strong evidence that research improves patient care and outcomes, providing access to unique treatment opportunities, enhanced contact with expert clinicians and more opportunities for patients to learn about their disease. It also improves staff experience, recruitment and retention and helps staff to flourish at work, using and developing new skills. It enhances the reputation of the trust and also brings in income to invest in patient care and further research. Finally, on a bigger scale, research can have a significant impact on improving population health which as you know is something that I’m particularly passionate about.

Last year, Newcastle was honoured to be designated as an Academic Health Science Centre called Newcastle Health Innovation Partners. This brings together the collective expertise of the trust, Newcastle University, our mental health trust CNTW, the academic health science network and, uniquely, our city council in a partnership to discover, develop and deliver new solutions in healthcare, improving population health for North East and North Cumbria citizens. The partnership is one of only 8 Academic Health Science Centres in the country, and means that Newcastle joins this exclusive group of the best research cities in the world.

I was delighted to join the ‘NHIP Ambition’ event with over 200 others on Tuesday, an online event celebrating the one year anniversary of our accreditation. This included a number of rapid fire presentation and interactive sessions and highlighted the ambitious programme that we hope to progress. You can see my presentation from the event here.

This was a timely opportunity to reflect on the progress we have already made to bring together the fantastic assets we have in the region to create something that is more than the sum of its parts. This can be seen in the development of the Integrated Covid Hub North East where we have worked together to create a unique infrastructure to help fight virus spread through accurate and fast testing, cutting edge science and robust data analysis.

Similarly our innovative new partnership ‘Collaborative Newcastle’ enables us to focus on the prevention of ill health and create better life opportunities for our residents giving us a once in a lifetime opportunity to tackle the consequences of inequality and deprivation.

Our research pedigree also builds on the success of our Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) which has been dedicated to improving lives through world class research into ageing and long-term conditions for almost 15 years. This research matters because our population is growing older and the number of people aged over 85 in the UK is expected to double over the next 20 years. In the North East we have significant health inequalities which mean that local people have a 20% higher chance of dying before the age of 75 than in other parts of the country, and there are stark disparities within the region, for example in terms of healthy life expectancy.

Those are just some of the reasons why it is the ideal time to look to the research future.

We want to create research where:

  • Every patient is able to get involved in research so they can get the very best health outcomes and our culture empowers all of our colleagues to embed research in their practice
  • We are able to seize the lessons from the recent pandemic to rapidly respond to research questions so that we can accelerate the creation of new knowledge.

We want everyone to share our ambition to deliver world-class research that not only advances science but also enhances our services, promotes economic growth and ultimately, enhances the health, wealth and wellbeing of the Newcastle population and beyond.

Research Strategy Launch Event

If you would like to hear more, please join us for the launch of Newcastle Hospitals’ Clinical Research Strategy (2021-2026) where we will be sharing our exciting vision of achieving local excellence and global reach through clinical research. We will share our strategic goals for the next five years, how we plan to achieve them and what success looks like.

You will also hear from some of our research workforce, patients and partner organisations, as they share some internationally recognised successes to date and provide their reflections on what the strategy means for the future of research at Newcastle Hospitals and beyond. This will take place next month on Tuesday 20 July from 10am – 11am.

Trust organ donation

I was pleased to receive a letter from NHS Blood and Transplant last week highlighting the contribution the Newcastle transplant teams have made to the UK organ donation programme. In what was a particularly challenging year for donations, lifesaving transplants still took place and our teams were commended for the efforts they made, often going the extra mile to support donation and respect the end of life decisions of patients and their families. The letter also set out some of the teams achievements which are included below.

Thank you

I recognise the huge amount of work that staff continue to put in right across this organisation to support our patients. The Emergency Department and Assessment Suite have been particularly busy and six times over the past three weeks, the main ED has received over 400 attendances a day – levels normally seen on our worst days during the winter.

We have been safely increasing planned activity with as many elective patients staying overnight for treatment as before this pandemic began. A lot of wards have now re-opened all of their beds and we continue to see as many outpatients as we did before coronavirus impacted on us all.

This week the IT team, working collaboratively with clinical staff, launched the new deteriorating patient alert system on white boards across the Trust. The system will drive patient safety by allowing us to identify and escalate deteriorating patients quickly for early intervention and supporting documentation and is another important step forward in our drive to enhance the use of digital technology across clinical services. Keeping our services going 24/7 – day and night – really takes a whole team effort – thank you.

Final call for HSJ Awards

The deadline for submitting a nomination for this year’s HSJ Awards has been extended until next Friday 18 June. The Awards are an opportunity to shine a light on the outstanding and innovative work going on across Newcastle Hospitals. You can find out more about the categories on the HSJ Awards website.

Move more

Thank you and congratulations to all of the teams who have been taking part in our #MoveMore challenge – a four-week event to motivate us to get our 8,000 steps in each day. With week three now complete The PSCs are sitting at the top of our leader board with an impressive 2,031,560 steps. You can plot the progress of individual teams through our Flourish website and please share your weekly updates with us on social media.

Carers week

This year Carers week (7-13 June) aims to make caring visible and valued. I was delighted to announce that we are introducing a carers advice worker to work with patients and staff to improve the support offered to family members, friends and partners with caring responsibilities. A huge thank you to Newcastle Hospitals Charity and NHS Charities Together for their support with this very important pilot project.

Thank you to our partners

Throughout the pandemic our partners across the City have supported NHS staff by offering free parking and I know staff have been extremely grateful for this valuable support. As we continue to follow the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, inevitably car parks are being opened up once more to the public and businesses returning to work which means this free parking offer comes to an end on Monday 21 June.

This might be worrying for those members of staff making use of the off-site permits so a travel to work information page is now available for staff providing details of the changes to parking along with alternative travel and parking options.

Awards and achievements

  • Congratulations to Jennifer Collins on being elected as the regional Institute of Biomedical Science council member for the North East.