Glimmers of hope

With the ongoing success of the vaccination programme and the first signs of spring, we may start to regain some optimism as these glimmers of hope become more reliable.

The Prime Minister’s statement, which is expected early next week, will give us further clarity about the end of lockdown and what we can expect in the coming weeks.

In the Trust, we can see that numbers of Covid patients are steadily declining. We are all conscious of how much this has been helped by social distancing and lockdown and public behaviours will remain vital to help us manage this pandemic.

I know many of you will be as anxious as I am that restrictions aren’t lifted too quickly. We continue to work closely with colleagues across the city and region to encourage the public to do their bit to help contain the spread of the virus.

I’m grateful for the attention that everyone pays to this at work and home and our Hands, Face, Space champions are playing a really important role in reminding everyone of their responsibility to keep each other safe.

Importantly, we are also seeing some return to a new ‘normal’ in other clinical areas that have been heavily affected by the pandemic. It has taken a huge effort, but we have been able to maintain more than 100% of last year’s outpatient activity by using virtual appointments and in many cases this has improved the experience of our patients.

Although our cancer referrals dipped at the start of the third wave, we are now doing well overall, and have seen important improvements in the time people wait for their cancer care.

Next week, the haemophilia team will return to their previous home after moving to enable us to deliver covid care in the early part of the pandemic. The programmed investigations unit (PIU) has also moved into their new home and we expect work on wards 50 and 51 at the RVI to be complete in mid-march.

The teams there are working on the new clinical pathways to put in place for coronary care and cardiology and, again, are looking forward to their move.

I’m also visiting our new cataract surgery centre next week ahead of its opening. This will transform the way we provide cataract surgery in the region and I’ll share more about this when it’s complete.

I don’t want to look too far ahead, but it does seem appropriate to begin to consider what might come next, and I wanted to share some of the things that I’m reflecting upon as we move towards the end of this third wave.

Firstly, I am keen that we all take time to remember how hard everyone has worked throughout the last year. I have said before how much of a privilege it has been to lead this team, and every day I‘m reminded of the teamwork, compassion and achievements we have made together.
It’s important that we think about what has made our team so strong, and capture the feedback we have had about some of the positive changes that have come from adversity.

I’m very focussed on caring for staff and ‘wellbeing’ in the broadest sense of the word. I want to make sure that everyone feels valued and that your efforts are recognised.

Hopefully, as a start, the changes we have made to overtime payments and annual leave arrangements this year will make a difference. I’ve also really appreciated people taking the time to let me know that the additional day’s holiday, thank you badges and letters we sent have been welcomed. They are small gestures – but they are from the heart.

You know that I am passionate about making Newcastle Hospitals the very best place to work, and I would like the legacy from covid to be an even better staff experience for everyone in the team.

As we take steps towards recovery over the next few months, I’d like to engage with staff in a much deeper and more structured way so that I can really understand what would make a difference, and activate your passion for making those changes.

My ambition is for Newcastle Hospitals to be an employer that embraces the ideas and contribution of everyone. I am acutely aware of the different experiences that are reported by staff from different cultures, backgrounds and communities, and this is not something that we can ignore – I want us to be a more equal community as we emerge from covid.

I’m also thinking about the legacy we want to leave in the city and the wider North East, and how we can tackle the well-known health inequalities that our patients experience every day.

Through Collaborative Newcastle we have a laser sharp focus on improving the health, wealth and wellbeing of everyone in the city and working in a different and more innovative way. We have exciting plans to support families and children differently and I will talk more about this in coming weeks.

The Government white paper – Working Together to Improve Health and Social Care for All – published last week also signals wider change in the NHS and points to a move away from competition between providers and towards collaboration. As a member of a number of national advisory groups, I’m committed to ensuring that the views from the North East are heard and fully considered as these ideas develop further.

Our Medical Director, Andy Welch, is chair of the North East Cancer Alliance, and I was pleased to hear their plans for developing cancer services across the region so that we strengthen collaboration between trusts and ensure that everyone is able to receive the highest standards of care regardless of where they live or the health inequalities they may experience.

These are examples of real, tangible improvements and I know that there are similar examples in teams across the trust.

Yesterday, I met with the urology team for one of my regular Chief Executive check-ins and heard about their experiences through the pandemic.

I was reminded of the huge contribution from every part of the team – including the admin staff who have worked so hard to communicate with patients and the housekeeping and support staff who have been an important integral part of the team. I heard about the huge strides that have been made to deliver telemedicine to make it possible to continue to care for patients, and the work to prioritise and maintain cancer care.

Once more I was struck by just how hard everyone has worked and how proud they are of what has been achieved.

Last week I also visited our Vaccine Centre at the Centre for Life to mark the impressive achievement of offering the vaccine to everyone in cohorts 1-4 of the programme. In the North East programme we have delivered over half a million vaccines already, and that’s thanks to the hard work of all our staff, partners and, of course, our volunteers who are such an important part of the team, giving hours of their own time to help.

I was pleased to hear that in the North East our vulnerable BAME communities are taking up the vaccine in significant numbers. Our staff networks have produced a short video to encourage staff to take up the offer of a vaccine which is available here

Everywhere I look across clinical and corporate services I see glimmers of optimism and hope. Small but significant steps forward which will lead us into the future. I know that everyone continues to work hard to support our patients and their families whilst also getting our own families and friends through this lockdown. While there is hope, there will also continue to be sadness. Help is available for anyone who is struggling and I would urge you to speak up if you would like support. Our managers, chaplains, staff side colleagues and mental health first aiders are all here for you if you need them and further information can be found on our staff wellbeing pages.

Sir Bobby’s Football Run

Continuing on the theme of wellbeing, why not join our incredible team raising money for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation by taking part in the first ever Sir Bobby’s Football Run in March.

Whether you fancy running 5km or 10km, it’s fun and free to enter and will help us to continue the amazing work Sir Bobby began when he launched our Foundation, finding more effective ways to detect and treat cancer. For more information visit Sir Bobby’s Football Run or contact the charity office at nuth.charity@nhs.net.

Awards and recognition

Congratulations to honorary consultant in medical oncology, Professor Ruth Plummer, who has received the Targeted Anticancer Therapies (TAT) Honorary Award from the European Society for Medical Oncology in recognition of her ‘relentless’ trial activity which has taken many new cancer drugs into clinic that have become standard treatments with proven patient benefit.
Over the last 20 years, Ruth has developed early phased trials practice in our dedicated cancer research centre at the Freeman and it is fantastic that her passion, dedication and commitment has been acknowledged on an international platform.