Health, Wealth and Wellbeing

This week I’ve been thinking about our city and the legacy we want to create following the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s clear that the North East has been hard hit by coronavirus and given the levels of deprivation experienced by our population that’s not a surprise. It’s another stark example of the challenges we see every day.

As the ‘anchor’ health organisation for the North East we are rightly proud of our ‘outstanding’ services and high standards, but we also know that our local population continues to have some of the worst public health outcomes in the UK.

Local people die earlier than they should and have more years of life lost to disability than in more affluent parts of the UK. This has to change, and I hope that the nation’s response to the pandemic will be an opportunity to re-balance and refocus the health of our city.

The Northern Health Science Alliance along with NHS researchers, have recently published an analysis showing the impact of the virus on different communities.

They looked at death rates from COVID-19, death rates from all causes and also the impact of job losses which is important because unemployment rates are an indicator of future health inequalities, especially in the field of mental health and suicide.

The team analysed data from the Office for National Statistics to map figures over six weeks to build up a picture of how the virus is affecting different parts of England. The figures were then plotted on to the main train routes to give a visual representation of the impact across the UK.

Sadly this work shows that deprived urban areas in the North of England, including Newcastle, are being hit with high rates of COVID deaths, higher death rates from all causes and are suffering from greater rates of increases in unemployment.

This week my thoughts have also been very much with our BAME colleagues and patients. The shocking death of George Floyd and others have led to protests around the world.

Here in the UK, Public Health England has released a report on disparities in the risk and outcomes from COVID-19, which can be viewed here. It shows that while age remains the biggest risk factor, black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people are at a higher risk of dying from COVID-19.

We should never for a moment, forget that we don’t all have the same chance in life and do not all have equal opportunities. I would like to say very clearly that in Newcastle Hospitals, Black lives matter.

Over the weekend, NHS England and NHS Improvement announced the creation of a new centre to investigate the impact of race and ethnicity on people’s health, as well as producing a summary of actions that the NHS had taken to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on NHS staff. More information about this can be found here.

Our BAME network is there to support staff and influence change and I would like to encourage staff to contact the staff network if you have any thoughts about how we can support you better – nuth.BAMEstaffnetwork@nhs.net.

We have a clear challenge as we reset NHS services in the North East and the city. How can we provide services in a way that challenges and minimises this structural inequality and begins to turn the tide?

As you know, we’ve been working very closely with our partners in Newcastle – particularly the city council, universities, GPs and the mental health trust over the last two years. As the largest institutions in the city, we recognise the positive impact that we can have, not only through the services we are responsible for delivering, but also through the range of other roles that we fulfil (for example as employers and as the procurers of goods and services).

Together we are committed to exercising this combined power to significantly improve the health, wealth and wellbeing of those who live and work in our city.

We’ve now formed ‘Collaborative Newcastle’ a partnership of the local organisations delivering services which we hope to formalise in a legally binding partnership agreement.

Throughout the COVID-19 response the key managers from the council, CCG and trust have been meeting daily to support our communities – particularly our care homes and other vulnerable residents.

We’ve also been working much more closely together in children’s services to help support and protect our young people and vulnerable families. This is a vital and urgent area of work, both for our current response and for the future of our population.

Through Collaborative Newcastle, we’ve been asked to work as a city to help support our care homes as part of a pilot of a national programme. This includes support for care home residents with COVID-19, testing, PPE and system resilience, and we have the opportunity to set the standard for an improved national response.

I am convinced that working together ‘as a city, for our city’ is the right approach to tackle the long-term inequalities that we face. None of us should accept the status quo, and I’d like us all to think about the role we each play in improving health in the North East so that we can tell a different story in the future.

Flourish at Newcastle Hospitals

I’ve been continuing to meet with small groups of staff to hear directly from them about their experiences through this pandemic, and on Tuesday I was delighted to meet with the procurement team who have done a wonderful job over the last few months in the most difficult circumstances, and I know it’s taken extreme hard work.

Making sure that we had the right PPE and that it got to the right place at the right time has been the most important factor in helping staff to feel safe throughout the pandemic and I’m very proud of the whole team effort that made sure we didn’t run out of any PPE at all.

This was down to the hard work of this team and others. It was great to hear that clinical teams have thanked and appreciated the efforts from procurement, and that we all now have a much greater appreciation of what procurement is all about. It’s come out of the back office and into the frontline.

The team clearly pulled together throughout the crisis and that’s something that will serve them well in future efforts. They have also built relationships with new directorates – particularly infection control – and worked closely with existing suppliers and businesses in the city and region like Barbour and the North East Chamber of Commerce.

I heard a lot of emotion in our discussion – the responsibility of sourcing and providing essential and lifesaving equipment was huge, but I can see that they also had a real pride in a job well done.

There’s now an opportunity to improve our supply chain in a proactive way, building on the networking, trust and strong relationships that have been developed so that we can make the most of the resources we purchase and our spending power. I’d like to see us spending more locally so that we can support local jobs and communities.

We also talked about how to support team members more in new ways of working and the need to manage with a different mindset – which is about flexibility, discretion and trust. We need to support our people and our systems to be resilient and confident in the new situation.

I’d like to express my thanks once more to everyone working in procurement across the Trust for your hard work and dedication. We truly couldn’t have done it without you and I know that hard work will continue through whatever comes next.