Hard times

The intense pressures on each part of the Trust, and the wider NHS, are becoming increasingly clear as the weeks progress. I know that over the last fortnight everyone has continued to face relentless demand. I am deeply concerned about the impact this part of the pandemic is having on everyone, and the subsequent potential effects on patients.

I don’t think anyone foresaw the sustained increases in attendances that our emergency pathways have experienced in recent weeks. We have broken the record of the most type 1 attendances several times, most recently on Monday 11 October when 518 people received care (875 across all types).

It’s clear that this is not a short term surge as we had all hoped, and over the past month in particular we have been focussed on developing short and medium term plans to address our current challenges.

It’s important to remember that we came into the pandemic in a very strong position, with high standards and many positive achievements, and this track record of excellence has carried on throughout the last 18 months. All of our teams have continued to deliver the highest possible standards of care, and to innovate and respond to the unexpected events we encountered.
At the moment things are harder than they have ever been, and I’ve talked before about the ‘perfect storm’ of covid admissions, staff illness and exhaustion, and the unprecedented volume of urgent and routine referrals. The fact that we have been living with this ‘storm’ for some weeks does not make it any less significant.

Last week, I chaired the first meeting of our ‘Newcastle Plan Delivery Board’ which will oversee and steer the next phase of our recovery, and look at how we can reach a more stable and sustainable response to the demands being placed upon us. Central to this is ensuring that we support staff, expand facilities and develop innovative approaches.

Through this board, we will develop and deliver a credible plan to eliminate the long waits for elective surgery which have developed due to the pandemic, as well as strengthening and supporting our urgent care services.

But problems like this are not solved in a board room, and I want to pay tribute to all of the work that staff, leaders and managers at every level, are doing to support and care for their teams and each other. I know that in every part of the trust our managers are working hard with their teams to create practical immediate plans that provide headroom and breathing space wherever possible, alongside managing the immediate activity.

I’m clear that we will need some more fundamental changes to the whole organisation to make sure that we can remain fit for the future, and in fact some examples of this are very much the things that staff have suggested to me during my regular visits to wards and departments.

Nurse staffing is very much a priority, and the senior nursing and AHP team have been engaging directly with staff over recent weeks to hear their experiences and explore collaborative solutions to maximise recruitment and retention. They have produced the first of a regular update to keep the wider team cited with developments. I’m delighted to see that we have welcomed over 200 newly qualified registered nurses to the trust during the Autumn and by Christmas we will also have an additional 74 international new recruits join us. I know that everyone will help all of our new colleagues find their feet so that they quickly feel at home here and become valued members of the team.

I can also confirm that work will begin shortly on a new multi-specialty elective treatment centre at the Freeman Hospital. This will be a new modular building including up to 4 daycase theatres which will enable an additional 1,500 low complexity day cases and infusion treatments to take place. It will help us to not only tackle our waiting lists for high volume specialties, but also frees up some existing theatres for more complex spinal work. This £18million investment will support patients from across the city and the wider region and will be completed in the early summer of 2022. This has taken a huge effort from our estates team as well as many other colleagues in clinical directorates and across the trust. As the construction continues and we move swiftly towards opening the centre much more work will be required, particularly to ensure we are able to recruit new staff.

Investing in this way – in our facilities and our staff – is essential. It helps us to focus on improvement and keeps us optimistic. We need to balance the here and now with keeping a firm eye on the change we want to see and I’m very grateful for all of the contributions that each member of our team is making each day.

Improving Staff Experience

At the forefront of my mind every day is the responsibility to support and protect our staff who really are at the heart of everything we do. I feel that responsibility very personally, and I know my executive and non-executive colleagues do as well.

Earlier this week, we made some time to focus on how we can improve staff experience for the over 16,000 very important people who work here. Our ‘population’ is as big as a small town, and we are very much a community that supports each other. I’ve highlighted before that we have asked the Institute for Health Improvement to support us in our drive to improve staff experience, and I was delighted that they could join our leadership congress on Tuesday to understand and analyse some of the feedback we have received from staff and to consolidate the high impact actions we can take together.

I want Newcastle Hospitals to become a place where we are always asking for and responding to feedback – and one very important way to achieve that is through the staff survey. Thank you to the 3,088 (19%) staff who have completed it already – your input is so important, and will really help us to steer towards the future we all want. Please take 10 minutes to share your views by clicking the personal link that has been sent to your email address.

Ride for their lives

I know how passionate many of you are about planetary health, and as a COP26 ambassador representing the NHS, I’m eagerly awaiting the COP 26 conference in Glasgow in a few weeks’ time.

In the run up to COP26, Consultant paediatric respiratory physician, Dr Mike McKean, Associate Director of Sustainability and Environment, James Dixon and Newcastle Hospitals Charity Director Teri Bayliss, will join a group of paediatric healthcare professionals to cycle 1000 miles from London to COP26 in Glasgow to raise awareness of the impact of air pollution on health, and to raise funds to help us do more sustainable work at Newcastle Hospitals.

Setting off on 24 October 2021, to arrive in Glasgow on 30 October 2021, the aim of the cycle is to highlight the estimated 7 million deaths annually caused by air pollution. The ride is organised by the Climate Acceptance Studio, and includes staff from Great Ormond Street and Evelina Children’s Hospitals in London, Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, Sheffield Children’s Hospital, the Great North Children’s Hospital and the Royal Hospital for Children Glasgow.
On the way to Glasgow, the group will stop at childrens’ hospitals across the UK for events. ‘Pollution Pods’, an award-winning art installation dramatising the air quality crisis, will be on display on the lawn outside Peacock Hall from 12noon on 28 October until 30 October.

Everyone is invited to take part, by either logging your own miles throughout October as part of a virtual challenge here; participating in a static cycling challenge in the MediCinema at the RVI on 28 October; or sponsoring our riders here.

The funds raised by our riders will be ring-fenced within Newcastle Hospitals Charity to support the innovative work we’re doing to become more sustainable, such as:


‘Domestic bliss – being a cleaner on the frontline’

I was very moved to read this first person account, by Anna Kerr, of working as a domestic assistant at the Trust. Our domestics and housekeepers are such an important part of our team, and their work is fundamental to patient care. I’d recommend taking a moment to read this piece and to reflect on the important role that they play.

Celebrating Doreen’s 50 years in the NHS

‘Golden Girl’ Doreen Hutton had a lovely surprise at the end of her shift on Monday morning this week to recognise and celebrate the 50 years she has worked in the NHS.

Doreen started working at the Princess Mary Maternity Hospital as a nursing auxiliary in 1971 because she needed a twin tub! A true inspiration to all her colleagues, Doreen still provides compassionate care at the Newcastle Birthing Centre, where the team think the world of her, and her passion for caring for others clearly runs in the family as her granddaughter has also joined the nursing profession, currently working at the RVI too.


SIGNET study

We’re delighted to be sponsoring the world’s largest organ donation study, SIGNET (Statins for Improving orGaN outcomE in Transplantation).

SIGNET will be the largest ever global single, blind randomised controlled trial in organ donation and will look at improving the quality of donated organs. Organ donors involved in the trial will be prescribed a single dose of simvastatin, a commonly used statin, which could help reduce inflammation and improve organ quality. If successful, the trial could boost organ recipients’ chance of survival.

Funded by the National Institute of Health Research, the study will be led NHS Blood and Transplant alongside researchers from Newcastle University. You can read more about it here.


A huge congratulations to orthopaedic consultants
Mr Andrew Bowey and Mr David Fender who performed a world-first  operation as part of an international clinical trial.

The operation was performed as part of the BRAIVE IDE study which will test the effectiveness of a new device to treat children with scoliosis. The trust also recruited the first patient to the trial.

The study will test the effectiveness of a new device developed by medical device company Medtronic, called the Braive growth modulation system. The system uses a braid secured to the spine with screws to slow growth on the curved side of the spine, while allowing growth to continue on the other side. Well done to Mr Bowey and Mr Fender for such a fantastic achievement. You can read more here.


Awards and celebrations

Congratulations to the E-rostering team, who have been shortlisted for the “Operational Roster Excellence” award, in the Allocate Awards 2021.

In the run up to AHP Day yesterday (14 October) our therapy services colleagues held a series of celebration events to showcase some of the innovative projects they have delivered over the last 12 months.

You can find out more about them here.