How are we doing?

I want to focus my blog this week on our operational performance and provide an overview of the current activity that we are seeing across the organisation.

This is in the context of unrelenting pressure on the whole of the NHS as we approach winter. At a time like this it could be easy to become critical, despondent or negative – instead we need to be realistic.

It’s really important that we understand collectively the picture that our teams and departments are facing, but also want to recognise, acknowledge and celebrate the exceptional effort being put in across the trust to support our patients and their families.

As I walk around the organisation, and talk to colleagues, it’s clear that everyone is working incredibly hard and I’m very proud of the whole team for giving their very best despite these pressures. This is a time when we need to continue with our laser focus on delivering for patients and thinking about both the immediate impact we can have, and what we can do for the longer term.

Last week, the CQC published its annual state of care report. Despite the difficult messages in this report, I was pleased to see our Northern Centre for Cancer Care highlighted as an area of good practice after they introduced seven-day working and enhanced ambulatory care.

This is a timely reminder to us all that we still have discretion to take control of our service models and make positive changes which really make an impact. Congratulations to the team for this achievement.

The last few weeks have continued to be busy and pressured across the organisation. Bed occupancy is high, and we have an increasing number of people who are in our hospitals after they are fit enough to move to somewhere more suitable – home, care placements or to other local hospitals.

This indicates that the pressures we are facing are not only ours. As with other parts of the country, the whole health and social care system is feeling the strain.

We are working closely with our partners in Collaborative Newcastle and other NHS providers across the Integrated Care System to make sure that we are supporting each other and ensuring that each element of the system is playing its part.

Our performance

In the last week we have seen particular pressures across the Trust and I wanted to highlight some specific areas and share how we are doing.

COVID-19 continues to have an impact on our services and around 70 beds are currently occupied with patients who have tested positive for this virus.

As you will know, a smaller proportion of those patients will be in hospital due to covid, and others will have it alongside other illnesses.

Although most of the additional infection control measures in the country have been relaxed, it is very important to protect vulnerable people in hospital from this, and of course other infections.

I’m very grateful to our Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) team who are always available to offer support and advice and help to keep our patients safe. I wanted to highlight the national Impact Award from the Infection Prevention Society which the team won recently for their work on ‘gloves off – wash your hands’ campaign which you can read more about here.

Again, it shows how we are continuing to develop our practice and lead the way in the NHS.

Our work to tackle the longest waiting times has continued unabated, and we now have just 23 people waiting for over 104 weeks for very specialist, complex, spinal surgery.

Our focus is firmly upon those in the next cohort of people waiting over 78 weeks which now stands at around 613 people.

In November and throughout the winter we will be taking full advantage of our new Day Treatment Centre by increasing our day case capacity for surgery which will, in turn, free up hospital capacity for patients who need cancer and other urgent treatments

Additional weekend lists are also being planned in the centre and we continue to look at other areas where we can expand capacity – for example in our virtual imaging review clinics in dermatology. We’ve also recently invested in an additional endoscopy room at the RVI and the team are holding weekend clinics to maximise this advantage.

Our emergency department continues to see high numbers of people presenting, far in excess of the busy days we have seen in previous years.

On Monday almost 800 patients were seen by our teams for urgent and emergency care (which includes attendances in the emergency department, eye department and our urgent treatment centres across the city).

Inevitably, these pressures impact on our NHS performance targets and I recognise how hard our teams are working to do our absolute best for patients.

Equally other services we provide don’t stop. Our midwifery teams had a busy September with 26 babies born in just one day and over the course of the month 468 babies were born on our delivery suite, 65 were born at the Newcastle Birthing Centre and one born at home.

The team also continue to work hard to provide postnatal and antenatal care both at the RVI and in the community.

I’m always conscious that in highlighting the work of some teams it can seem like we’re not recognising others and of course that is not the case. Over the last week, we’ve seen particularly high levels of occupancy at the RVI, and it has been a team effort to address this. Everyone has pulled together to give our patients the best standard of care that we possibly can.

Discharge lounges have been set up at short notice, nursing staff in corporate and outpatient roles have supported their colleagues on wards, everyone has worked flexibly to support each other.

There are many other areas that continue to experience unprecedented high volumes of activity. If you feel you would like to highlight the work you are doing in your own areas, please don’t hesitate to contact me or any other member of the executive team.

As always, we have a range of wellbeing resources which staff can access including Togetherall – a safe online community where people support each other anonymously to improve mental health and wellbeing – and this is a 24/7 service. You can access lots of useful information, support and advice on what you need to stay physically, emotionally and mentally well through our wellbeing hub.

Over the next few weeks we will continue to update you regularly, through your directorate routes and through my blog about how we’re working to tackle the challenges we face. This will include the development of virtual wards, creating a clinical decisions unit and a range of other innovations and investments.

Thank you all for the efforts you are making and the flexibility you are showing to support your patients, and your colleagues.

Supporting our lung cancer patients

In response to the development of the national Lung Health Check programme, ward 25 at the Freeman Hospital has reopened a 4 bed HDU unit (ward 25a). The Lung Health Check programme is offered to people aged between 55 and 74 who are current or former smokers. It is designed to identify signs of cancer at an early stage – where it is much more treatable – ultimately saving more lives.

The HDU unit will initially support lung cancer patients, especially those from across the region identified as part of the Lung Health Check programme; however it will eventually support all post-surgical cardiothoracic patients. Congratulations to the whole team who have worked so hard to make this possible I know you are going to be playing an important part in improving the lives of our lung cancer patients.

Speak up – we’re listening

October has been Speak Up Month and our Freedom to Speak up Guardian, Andy Pike, and champions have been taking the opportunity to talk to staff about the importance of speaking up and the options available to everyone.

It’s so important that everyone feels confident to raise concerns and trust they will be listened to. We want colleagues to feel safe and free from any negative repercussions in being open and honest with us.

Andy said: “To make speaking up ‘business as usual’ it is essential that when people speak up, they are listened to, and that learning and improvement happens as a result. We know that this improves our working lives and improves the quality and safety of care. Listening and taking action means a culture where freedom to speak up is commonplace, can thrive.”

Lucy Craig, a nurse and one of our Freedom to Speak up Champions features in this video and shares why it’s important for staff to feel supported and share any concerns.

If colleagues would like to report concerns or raise issues, they can use our anonymous dialogue system ‘Speak in Confidence’ (details of which can be found on our intranet under the A-Z) or alternatively, you can contact the Freedom to Speak Up Guardian by email [email protected]

Staff survey

Thank you to everyone who has completed their staff survey so far – I appreciate the time you’ve taken to feedback on your working experiences.
The last couple of years have been exceptionally difficult and I know it still feels challenging today.

It’s so important colleagues continue to share their working experiences with us so we, in turn, can make changes which will have an impact on your working lives. If you haven’t filled out your survey already – which takes less than 15 minutes to complete – please look out for your email from [email protected]

Telling your improvement story

Sharing our improvement stories with each other is a fantastic way of spreading ideas, inspiring others and growing awareness about quality improvement. Even the smallest changes can have a big impact for staff and patients, and it’s important that we all learn from each other.

Newcastle Improvement hosts monthly Learning and Sharing events that are designed to provide a place for colleagues to share their improvement stories and they are always an inspiring event.

The latest session took place last week and included presentations from older people’s medicine and paediatrics. You can watch the session here if you missed it.

I would urge anyone who has a story to tell about an improvement to share it! It doesn’t have to be a full report at the end of a piece of work or an answer to a big problem – it can be an account of part of an improvement effort, a summary of someone’s experience, something that informs a debate or raises awareness.

You can also contact Newcastle Improvement by email at [email protected]
for more information.

Support for staff from Citizen’s Advice Gateshead

As the cost-of-living crisis continues, I’d like to remind colleagues that you have direct access to confidential support from Citizens Advice Gateshead. The service is part of the ‘Helping Hands’ initiative, run by our chaplaincy team, and is open to everyone.

Whether you have money worries, need help completing benefits forms or need advice on how to access support you can access dedicated, confidential help. You can get more info here.

Staff can also speak with a CAB advisor confidentially at one of their regular drop-in sessions:

  • Every Tuesday at the RVI, 11am to 2pm (Level 5 Chaplaincy office, Leazes Wing near the lifts and wards 48,47,46 and 45)
  • Every Thursday at the Freeman, 11am to 2pm (Chaplaincy Staff support room “Soul space” Level 2 Chapel Corridor, FH main block)

Citizens Advice Gateshead is an independent charity and all information you provide will be in confidence. You can also contact Citizens Advice Gateshead directly on [email protected] or 0191 814 4215.

Citizens Advice Gateshead is also launching a newsletter for our staff called ‘In the Know’ and each edition will focus on a key area and offer advice. If you have a particular topic you would like them to cover please let them know at the email above. I’m pleased to launch the first newsletter, which focuses on scams, and can be accessed here.

Holly Richardson, team bake off winner for Education Workforce Development

Newcastle Hospitals Bake Off

As some light relief during these challenging times, I’d like to thank everyone who has taken part in the Newcastle Hospitals Bake Off over the last few weeks.

I really hope you enjoyed getting together with your teams and chatting over some cake. I have seen some fantastic pictures of colleagues, winners proudly showing off their Bake-Off Wooden Spoon – and some very impressive cake making!

The deadline for our finalists was yesterday – and the judges will be meeting to decide the overall winner over the next week. Good luck to everyone.

Chimp mind management sessions

In collaboration with Chimp Mind Management, we are continuing to host a series of workshops and ‘bitesize’ sessions to help people get the best of themselves by truly understanding how their minds work, and developing the skills needed to manage emotions, thinking and behaviour.

The programme includes ‘Skills for Life’, ‘Keynote’ and ‘Masterclass’ sessions and more information can be found on the intranet or by emailing [email protected]

Awards and achievements

  • Four-year-old Charlie, from Aberdeen, is the first patient in the UK to be dosed in a gene therapy clinical trial for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) at the John Walton Muscular Dystrophy Research Centre, a world-leading neuromuscular research centre run by the Trust and Newcastle Hospitals. e was able to take part in the study thanks to us working in partnership also with the DMD charity Duchenne UK. You can read more here.
  • Congratulations to all our nursing teams who made the finals of the Nursing Times Awards this week. We were shortlisted in three categories – clinical research nursing, continence promotion and care and theatre and surgical nursing – and you can read more about their work on our website news pages.
  • Congratulations also to consultant medical oncologist, Radha Todd. who has recently been appointed to chair one of the four NICE Technology Appraisal Committees – a crucial role for patients and the wider NHS. Radha will become chair of Committee A and joins Professor Stephen O’Brien who is currently chair of Committee C.