Delivering every day for our patients

I want to begin this week’s blog with a huge ‘thank you’ and to recognise the way that everyone is working to serve our patients at this difficult time in the year.

This time of year is always the most pressured as we navigate the challenging winter months and increases in urgent and emergency attendances and admissions. The patients in our care are generally sicker and we continue to see flu symptoms affecting both patients and our staff.

Of course we plan ahead for all of this – at least as far as we are able. The uptake of the flu vaccination this year was impressive and I know staff have been working harder than ever to provide the care our patients need. However it is right to acknowledge that it is even more challenging this year in Newcastle and across our NHS for many reasons which have been well rehearsed.

The outbreak of coronavirus has created additional and unexpected pressure and we have seen a step up in activity across the hospital as we support more patients concerned about this virus.

I’ve been able to see for myself the superhuman efforts that teams across the trust are making. Yesterday I visited the labs to meet the inspiring and dedicated scientists who are at the frontline  of the region’s response and to hear first-hand the challenges they are tackling.

I’ve also recently visited the Infectious diseases team – who have been very much in the spotlight – and I’m keeping very close to our operations and preparations.

We were recently visited by Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer and this week by Amanda Pritchard, Chief Operating Officer of NHS England and Improvement, who were both keen to hear more about the way we have successfully managed this challenge so far, and what lessons we can share with the wider NHS.

Staff can access all of the up-to-date information on the virus by clicking on the dedicated link on the homepage of the intranet. The most important thing that everyone can do is to wash your hands, wash them well and wash them often.

Inevitably we will see further developments over the next weeks and months and it is likely that everyone will need to behave differently and work in different ways to contribute to our response to this illness. I know that team Newcastle will rise to the challenge, as we have so many times before.

So thank you all – you are doing an amazing job.

Levelling up

Of course as well as dealing with today, we also have to plan for the future. Having spent the last 39 years working in the NHS, I know that our planning can be extremely short-term. I am encouraged, therefore, by the discussions taking place across the City and the North East and North Cumbria – it is only by working as a wider system we will address the long-term issues.

Last week, the Institute of Health Equity published ‘Health Equity in England: the Marmot Review 10 years on’ which received wide coverage in the media. A decade after his first comprehensive analysis of data looking at the health of the rich and poor in the UK, Professor Michael Marmot has once again cast a light on the health inequalities that exist in our communities.

He found that, for the first time in over 100 years, life expectancy hasn’t increased for people living in England, and for the poorest 10% of women it has declined. Overall health inequalities between the richer and poorer members of our society – and between the North and the South – have worsened.The quality of healthcare that we provide to our local people is important, but it’s not the main factor in how healthy the population is. Housing, employment, family relationships and other social determinants of health are much more powerful in influencing a long and healthy life.

This is particularly significant for us in the North East where – for both men and women – we’ve seen the largest decreases in life expectancy in the UK in the 10% most deprived neighbourhoods.

This won’t come as a surprise to many of us who see the impact of poorer health as we care for our patients and hear about their struggles with poverty, debt, poor housing and other disadvantages.

The babies born when Marmot’s original report was published are now the ten-year-olds being treated in our Great North Children’s Hospital, some of whom will experience the realities of ill health caused by these social determinants of health.

With such stark data confronting us it could be easy to feel pessimistic, but our job is to be ambitious and optimistic. Helpfully, the Marmot report also reinforces areas where action can be taken to make improvements. These areas are:

  • Give every child the best start in life,
  • Enable all children, young people and adults to maximise their capabilities and have control over their lives,
  • Create fair employment and good work for all,
  • Ensure a healthy standard of living for all,
  • Create and develop healthy and sustainable places and communities.

    Infographic taken from NHSA: Health for Wealth Building a Healthier Northern Powerhouse for UK Productivity

Our shared goal should be to bring the level of health in deprived communities in the North, up to the level of good health enjoyed by those living in more affluent areas. But even providing the outstanding healthcare that we have been providing over the decade hasn’t been enough.

Over that last 18 months, there’s been a fundamental shift in the City as the big civic partners have committed to driving up Health, Wealth and Wellbeing – a huge task and not one which we have taken lightly.

So, what can we do in Newcastle Hospitals to contribute to better health in the City and in the wider North East? As the largest employer in Newcastle, and one of the largest in the North East with around 15,000 staff, it’s important that we set a high standard. Last year we took proactive steps to support our apprentices, ensuring that those entering employment receive a fair wage so they can concentrate on developing skills and knowledge to launch their careers and contribute to society.

We can support the local economy in other ways as well. Each year we spend around £422 million through procurement. We are looking to spend more of this locally in the North East to support the local economy and provide much needed jobs. We’re also asking more of the companies that supply goods to us, to ensure that we drive up employment practices in those businesses as well.

Equally importantly, we can work collectively with the other major partners and businesses to amplify the voices promoting a healthy City and we can work together to tackle climate change, air pollution and other environmental factors that impact upon the health of our communities.
We can promote the City together as a great place to live and work and bring inward investment and infrastructure that will increase overall wealth for our communities.

We can also continue to provide our excellent services in different ways, less bounded by the walls of the hospital or traditional expectations, and focussing more on prevention, reaching out into communities and encouraging healthy lifestyles – as set out in the NHS Long Term Plan.

It’s an exciting opportunity, but also a big responsibility. We need to keep trying to make sure that every contact we have with our patients helps them on the road to a healthier lifestyle overall, whether that’s by encouraging better nutrition, to give up smoking, or to move a little more. Small changes really can make a big difference.


Continuing on the theme of health and wellbeing, this month’s Flourish campaign focuses on good hydration, nutrition and mouth health, which very much go hand in hand.

One of key things we’re encouraging staff to do – either as teams or individuals – is to take part our hydration challenge by increasing their fluid intake throughout March. Studies have shown many healthcare professionals don’t drink enough during their shifts so we’ve produced some resources on the importance of rehydrating, refuelling and taking a proper break!

There are also key events taking place including:

  • Our nutrition and hydration conference on 13 March at the New Education Centre, RVI, from 8.30am to 4.30pm
  • Nutrition and Hydration Week (where our teams will be holding stands at the Medicinema and Freeman Hospital every day from 16 to 20 March, midday-2pm)
  • World Oral Health Day – 20 March

To find out more visit and please share with us what you’re doing.

Awards and Achievements

I’m delighted to share that our team at the Great North Children’s Hospital has been shortlisted in the 2020 HSJ Value Awards which showcase the most efficient and innovative projects that are helping their wider organisations deliver better services and improved outcomes.

The team are finalists in the Pharmacy and Medicines Optimisation Award for their KidzMed project, which teaches children to swallow tablets.

Further to this, it is great to see some of our Climate Emergency work has been recognised in the BMJ Awards. The work of Ian Baxter and Cathy Lawson around sustainable anaesthesia and our Climate Emergency Team have both been shortlisted for the Environmental Sustainability and Climate Action Team Award.

In addition to this, the work we have been doing in partnership with our colleagues in the Association of Anaesthetists as part of the joint fatigue working group has also been shortlisted for the Workforce and Wellbeing Team Award.

Finally congratulations to occupational therapy assistant Becca Carlson who was named ‘Apprentice of the Year 2020’ at the national Unsung Heroes Awards. Becca was put forward by her supervisor, Deb Gardner – an advanced occupational therapist (OT) who works at the RVI’s Great North Children’s Hospital.

NHS Parliamentary awards

The NHS Parliamentary Awards provides an excellent opportunity for health and care organisations to engage with their local MPs, tell them about the work they do, and build or strengthen ongoing relationships.

There are 10 categories in which you can put forward a nomination for the NHS Parliamentary Awards. Find out how to make a nomination here: