Discovering the future

In Newcastle, we understand the importance of scientific discovery to underpin improvements in healthcare.  That has been illustrated clearly this week with the exciting initial announcements from the RECOVERY (Randomised Evaluation of COVid-19 thERapY) trial which Newcastle Hospitals participated in.

The results show that dexamethasone reduces 28-day mortality substantially among patients with COVID-19 who received oxygen or ventilation at the time of randomisation. Among participants receiving oxygen alone, the risk of death was reduced by 20%, and among participants receiving ventilation the risk of death was reduced by 35%.

These results are incredibly important and have immediate applications globally for the many thousands of patients currently in hospital receiving oxygen and will potentially save many lives.

Thanks to the hard work from many clinical and research staff who stopped and reprioritised their current studies, we were very quick to set up a COVID-19 research team when the pandemic began.

The team has already supported and contributed significantly to ground-breaking research, including in the emergency department, infectious diseases, respiratory medicine, critical care, maternity care and paediatrics.  All of which are aimed at improving our understanding of COVID-19 and finding effective treatments. We are currently contributing to over ten COVID-19 studies prioritised by the Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty.

Last year we refreshed our Trust strategy and very deliberately set out the focus we want to see in developing our research and innovation capacity and capability over coming years.  As one of the major pioneering health organisations in the NHS and the world, we are well placed to bring together our clinical and academic expertise.

Due to the strength of our partnerships in the city and nationally we are able to leverage our combined capacity to further develop Newcastle as a major centre for research.  Our recent designation as an Academic Health Science Centre illustrates the scale of our confidence and ambition, and is an important part of the architecture that we are creating to support research and innovation.

Recently, our commercial enterprise team has been established to support another important element of our strategy. The team brings an entirely new approach to our outlook, challenging us to be more focussed on developing and accelerating new innovation and becoming more fleet of foot in seizing opportunities to improve care. You can find out more about the team here (link to biographies), and I know that you will welcome them into the trust.

I’ve highlighted many times the intrinsic link between health, wealth and wellbeing, and the importance of working with partners across the city including the business sector.  We have the prospect of helping to create new innovations, technology and products which will directly benefit our patients. This work will also support the economy and help get people into employment and all of these wider actions support our drive to be the provider of excellent healthcare.

All of that broader work is brought into sharp focus when we think about the impact that research has on our patients.

A couple of days ago I met with some of our intensive care team and heard from them directly about the incredibly challenging circumstances they have been working in throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

I heard about their distress in not being able to help patients who were acutely unwell because the science didn’t exist to know what would make a positive difference. I know that every member of that team gave so much of themselves and made many sacrifices to help their patients and because of that, many of them were saved, even sometimes after all hope had been lost.  They found themselves working ‘in the dark’ because they didn’t know whether the actions they were taking were helping their patients to recover or not.  I want to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has been working in our intensive care units through the pandemic.  I know how incredibly challenging this must have been.

It’s only by carrying out the rigorous research that we pride ourselves in that we have the tools and the knowledge to cure, especially with a new and frightening disease like COVID-19.

The high levels of health inequalities that our population faces in the North East make it imperative that we bring the very best of health research and innovation quickly to our communities.  Along with our partners in the city, we want Newcastle to become a thriving hub for discovery and health improvement.  Using the data that we have, the clinical excellence that we provide everyday and the academic talent that we have across our organisation we can create the very best care and positive outcomes.

That’s something that we can all play a part in.  Finding out more about the research activity in the different areas of the Trust, being curious about the role we can all play, and giving patients the opportunity to take part in research is really important and will continue to ensure that we all contribute to discovering the future.

Black Lives Matter

Over the last few weeks I’ve continued to be saddened by the racism that we have seen in the UK and across the world.  It has continued to bring the inequalities that BAME colleagues face every day into sharp focus.

I’ve had several personal conversations with members of our BAME network which have helped me to think more deeply about these issues and I’ve taken the time to read about this subject more fully than I might have done a few weeks ago.  My awareness of people’s experiences has been raised, and I’ve become more mindful of my own privilege and responsibilities.  There are no easy answers, and no consensus about the best steps to take to make a difference.  There is also a genuine anxiety of getting it wrong – saying or doing the wrong thing despite the best of intentions.

Feedback from our BAME network has highlighted a clear theme ‘gestures are welcome, but action is better’, and it’s important to me that we each take action.  For us as an organisation, it’s important that actions are led by BAME colleagues empowered and supported to do that.

I’m pleased to see our BAME network growing in size and confidence over recent weeks and they have been meeting with our Medical Director, Andy Welch, most weeks so that he can hear from them first hand.  But this isn’t a problem for our BAME colleagues to solve – it’s up to each of us to be aware of our impact on others and to take personal action.

I know that we don’t have enough leaders from different backgrounds here, and we need to change this.  We’re ensuring that there is representation from the network on every senior appointments panel, and this is already having an impact on the questions that are asked of candidates for senior posts and the considerations of those panels.  We’re also launching a ‘reverse mentoring’ scheme, which I and members of the executive team will take part in, so that we can each hear from BAME colleagues about the reality of their experience.

I also want to say very clearly that I will not tolerate racism here.  Please do not hesitate to report and challenge discrimination if and when you see it.

Again, at the suggestion of BAME network members, we’ll be producing some information to help people understand what we can all do to make a difference to our colleagues and to highlight the ‘micro-aggressions’ that can be so hurtful.

One of our core values is ‘we celebrate diversity’.  We have an important chance to do that in a much more meaningful way so let’s all work together to all play a role in making Newcastle Hospitals as open and equal a place as it can be.

Awards, Achievements and News

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, our staff and teams continue to be recognised at both local and national level for the important work they do to enhance patient care and support our services, as well as our staff, across the organisation:

  • Fertility specialist Dr Meenakshi Choudhary – a consultant gynaecologist and sub-specialist in reproductive medicine at the Newcastle Fertility Centre – has been named a finalist in this year’s Asian Women of Achievements Awards which celebrate Britain’s remarkable Asian women. She is shortlisted in the ‘Professions’ category in recognition of her many outstanding achievements during her clinical career.
  • Leading immunology experts at the RVI, Professor Muzlifah Haniffa, an honorary dermatologist, and Professor Sophie Hambleton, an honorary immunologist, have both been elected to join the prestigious Academy of Medical Sciences’ Fellowship. They were recognised for their exceptional contributions to world-leading research, which have been translated into pioneering clinical care, and join a cohort of 50 like-minded clinical leaders who, by pooling together their experience and expertise, endeavour to drive forward advances in healthcare. They are also two of the 19 female Fellows, contributing to the growing diversity of the Fellowship.
  • Clinical trials of new cancer treatments are at the heart of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and, every year, progress is made testing new drugs at the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care. The charity has funded a new clinical trials design team which will work closely with NHS Trusts across the region to develop even more cancer research projects – the findings of which will not only benefit patients locally but also nationally and internationally.
  • Some of the drawings created by children of our frontline NHS staff are now taking centre stage in the iconic ‘Fenwick windows’ as part of a special tribute being paid to healthcare staff who have worked tirelessly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only can you get to see the artwork, previously displayed across our hospitals, on full show; you can also donate to our Newcastle Hospital’s charity by buying special tote bags, commissioned and produced by Fenwick, which feature two of the children’s drawings. Additionally, a hand-made patchwork quilt – also on display using the children’s drawings – will be auctioned for our charity in the near future.
  • This week, we invited both the BBC and Tyne Tees into the Trust to share the work we have been doing to care for patients with COVID-19 throughout the pandemic, both in acute and community settings. They captured some really powerful stories and I’d like to thank everyone who took part in the filming.

Finally, next month (Sunday 5 July) will be the 72nd birthday of the NHS and it is planned the anniversary will be used to say a huge thank you to everyone who has helped to respond to this global pandemic over the last six months while also remembering the human toll of COVID-19. National plans are still developing but if you want to share your COVID stories please get in touch with the communications team at [email protected]