Flourish on the frontline

The end of January can lack a bit of sparkle. It’s cold, grey and damp. Dry January and the New Year’s fitness and weight loss resolutions are getting tough, and the Christmas credit card bills are arriving.

On top of that, work is incredibly busy and it can seem like there’s no let-up in the stream of very unwell people coming through our doors or the challenging NHS headlines in the national press. I know that people are feeling the pressure.

As CEO, one of my most important jobs is to support you, and all of our staff working at Newcastle Hospitals. I know how vital it is for everyone to feel safe at work, to feel valued and have their contribution recognised. When things are tough, it’s the teamwork and the sense of making a difference that keeps us all achieving the high standards that we are proud to deliver.

Newcastle Hospitals is such a special place because of that team work, dedication and commitment to our patients. That outweighs everything, and as I walk around our services and talk to staff I am constantly reminded of the care and kindness that makes us outstanding.

I recently read a paper by Professor Michael West and Dame Denise Coia ‘Caring for Doctors, Caring for patients’. They reminded us again, very clearly, that patient safety depends on staff wellbeing and although they look specifically at doctors, the principles apply to everyone working in the NHS. They highlight the ABC of core needs to ensure motivation and wellbeing at work:



A: Autonomy/control – the need to have control over our work lives, and to act consistently with our work and life values.

B: Belonging – the need to be connected to, cared for, and caring of others around us in the workplace and to feel valued, respected and supported.

C: Competence – the need to experience effectiveness and deliver valued outcomes, such as high-quality care.

When I first joined Newcastle Hospitals in May 2018, I knew instinctively that I needed to prioritise strengthening our efforts to transform the experience for staff. I spent a great deal of time with frontline teams and listened hard to their frustrations and ideas. Through focus groups and large scale events, staff told me that there were three areas were you wanted to see progress:

1. Health and wellbeing (in the broadest sense)
2. Values and behaviours
3. Reward and recognition.

We have taken this feedback very seriously and I hope you have seen change. Our People and our Flourish programme is the cornerstone of our Trust strategy – the way we will work in the future.

Whilst I’m pleased with the progress we have already made to support staff wellbeing and been delighted by some of the health campaigns we’ve developed together, further cultural change won’t happen overnight.

We have been able to do simple things that make a difference – for example introducing vending machines to theatres, creating a plan to provide places to sleep, improving regular communications across the Trust, introducing our first fruit and veg stall and developing our flexible working policies – and there are further plans for many more developments.

However, I am conscious this is a crucial time because we have done many of the ‘quick wins’ and the next stage of change will be more challenging…

We will need to ‘break’ some of the rules and expectations that have been built up over many years so that we can reset them – and we need to do that in a way that is respectful and safe.

We will need to develop new expectations for leadership behaviours and support staff at all levels of the organisation to work in a different way with new accountabilities and priorities.

We need to make sure that everyone can ‘Flourish on the frontline’ and I will need your help to achieve that. This kind of change can’t be done from my office. I will need everyone to do their bit. I’m sure that as we go through this process we will get things wrong, but that’s ok, as long as we carry on moving forwards together, and continue to deliver the outstanding care that makes us so proud.

I’m hoping that when the NHS People Plan is published shortly it will reinforce our ambition to make the NHS, and in particular Newcastle Hospitals, one of the best and most fulfilling places to work, and I look forward to seeing what other ideas it presents.

In Newcastle we are used to responding positively and delivering the best care, and over the next few months as we approach the end of our financial year, I am also asking for renewed focus and effort on delivering what we said we would deliver for our patients in 2019/2020.

Right now we are behind and in some areas significantly behind our agreed activity and financial plans. I and the executive team are working with leadership teams across our directorates looking at where – and how – we can support them. Given the size and scale of our organisation, delivery depends on the efforts of everyone.

I am sure that managers are keeping you engaged on how your team is doing and discussing the actions we can take to improve our position as we approach the year-end (March 2020) and into next year. If we fail to make sufficient progress now, it only makes the following year harder and we are already working on plans for the next financial year starting 1 April.

This is really important because behind every target or ‘performance metric’ is a patient and a family. We set ourselves the highest standards here in Newcastle and it is this which underpins our ‘outstanding’ status.

Celebrating Excellence

I started this blog by talking about the weather, and very often, a dreary grey day can be followed by a glorious red sunset, or a bright clear blue morning, which lifts our spirits.

It’s in that spirit I’d like to share with you that nominations will open for our Celebrating Excellence Awards 2020 on Monday (27 January). These awards began last year in response to requests from staff who asked for more opportunities for outstanding work to be recognised.

It was a wonderful event, full of pride and a sprinkle of glamour, and I’m delighted to be able to bring it back again, funded almost entirely by sponsorship. Staff who attended told me how proud they were to be part of the team and how overwhelmed they were to be recognised by being shortlisted. Celebrating our success is important. It doesn’t indicate that everything is perfect, but it does give us time to reflect on the things we do well, and the people who make a difference.

This year, there are 13 awards that you can nominate colleagues for. These include a new award to recognise those who contribute towards our work tackling the climate emergency, and a special award to celebrate the year of the nurse and midwife. Nominations close on Friday 20 March. Make a nomination here.

I’m really looking forward to making positive changes this year, listening openly and celebrating together, and making Newcastle Hospitals an ever better place to work.


It is fantastic news that over 80% of frontline staff have now had the flu vaccination – that’s 9,878 clinical staff vaccinated (12,591 staff overall) to protect yourselves, patients and colleagues.

You’ll be aware we have seen higher numbers of very sick patients in our hospitals and Public Health England is still receiving a lot of reports of outbreaks of flu (and other respiratory viruses) in care homes.

Our message remains – if you haven’t had your jab already please get one. The uptake in some directorates is still only around 70% and flu is out there!


Following the success of #LetsTalk last year, our February campaign is, once again, all about mental wellbeing and we’re encouraging teams across the Trust to have a chat.

Whether that’s getting involved in discussions and debate – or simply catching up with colleagues over a coffee to find out how they’re doing – it is important we all try to take time out of our busy schedules for a natter.

Mental health problems still affect one in four of us so talking – and listening – can change lives. If you are meeting as teams and want to jot down your thoughts and ideas, you can pick up some posters from [email protected].

I do know Poppy Jingles – our staff welfare hound – is hosting a ‘Pat and Chat’ in the Freeman Chapel on Thursday 6 February between 2pm and 4pm and I’d encourage teams to share with us what you’re doing in your own departments.

On Monday (27 January), we’ll also be holding our first Project Menopause event of the year on diet and exercise featuring discussions with dietitian Suzi Livingston and Marguerite Fisher from the Raising Participation Team Active Newcastle City Council.

The workshop takes place in the Freeman Hospital, Room 137/138 at 5.15pm and will be repeated on 4 February in the Piano Room at the RVI (from 5pm). Details of all the sessions in 2020 are available here

Next month – ahead of the publication of the staff survey results – we’ve also arranged a Flourish engagement session with directorates to discuss what we think our priorities will be for the organisation, as well as within their own areas of work. The event takes place on Thursday 13 February at St James Park and each directorate has been asked to nominate four people to attend.

Awards, achievements and events

Cancer centre launch – This morning, we are officially marking the start of building work on a multi-million pound cancer centre at the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle – a partnership between ourselves and North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust.

This is an exciting development which will create a modern state-of-the art environment for staff, patients, carers and their relatives and demonstrates our shared vision and long-term commitment to delivering high quality, clinically safe and sustainable cancer services to the people of North Cumbria.

While North Cumbria will oversee the building of the new centre, once complete it will be run by our Trust as part of the Northern Centre for Cancer Care, with Newcastle oncologist specialists working with the existing teams to provide additional resilience to the service.

LGBT History Month – February is LGBT History month, and I am delighted that our LGBT staff network members have arranged a number of sessions to raise awareness. Our staff networks – groups run by staff, for staff – help to celebrate the diversity of our workforce and promote equality for all. We currently have a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Network, a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Network and a Disability Network and these are open to anyone with a passion for promoting equality and diversity.

Rainbow flags will also be raised at the Freeman and RVI on Friday 31 January and remain there throughout the month. We will also be starting to plan for our first national LGBT staff conference, which takes place on 17 July. Details of this and events being held this month are on the Intranet.

Newcastle Retirement Fellowship – The first meeting of our Retirement Fellowship branch will take place in the Piano Room, RVI, on Thursday 6 February at 9.30am. All retired – and soon to retire – staff are welcome to go along.

Evelyn Baker Award – Congratulations to Consultant Anaesthetist, Dr Kathryn Bell, who has received the Evelyn Baker Award from the Association of Anaesthetists. In summing up her award, Drs Anthony Rostron and Claire Woods said: “Kathryn is fiercely intelligent, technically proficient, an exceptional communicator and a patient champion and thus a well-rounded clinician. She has invested in the grass roots of anaesthesia and cultivated her colleagues. We believe that she would be a worthy recipient of the Evelyn Baker medal.”