Keeping going

I’m a huge fan of women’s football, and always try to watch the England games whenever I can. It’s great that these matches are now being covered on television and are accessible to a bigger audience. Last week you might have watched as the England lionesses beat Latvia 20 – 0. I thought this was an impressive performance. It would have been very easy for the team to have eased their efforts after the first 5 goals, or even the first 10. But that isn’t what they did. The full team took the whole 90 minutes seriously, playing their best right until the final whistle and didn’t take their foot off the accelerator at all.

I can see Team Newcastle playing out that spirit every day.  We don’t give up, we persevere and we are always looking to the next challenge and the next success. We know that is what makes the difference for our patients. I see it in our clinical services as well as in our equally important supporting services, some of which I visited recently and will highlight later in this blog.

Tackling health inequality

One of the biggest challenges we all face is our role in tackling health inequalities in our city. I suspect that a few years ago we might not have thought about this area as part of our ‘day job’ but today, and particularly in the context of the pandemic, it is impossible to think about the work we do without looking through the lens of inequality.

Our job is to focus on improving the health of local people through delivering high quality care at the same time as addressing longer term health inequalities. Those two things are entirely interlinked and one reason for our current operational pressures is that people in the North East have among the poorest health and lowest life expectancy in the UK. This is most graphically shown by looking at the metro map – and the difference in healthy life expectancy of people living at the different stops. There’s just three miles between Jesmond and Byker, but an average of eight years difference in healthy life expectancy. That is a shocking fact that we should be challenging every day.

There is no shortage of positive mindset and will to make progress with this problem. During my conversation with primary care leaders and the GP Federation this week, we agreed that this is a challenge we want to win and I’m very grateful that we have this collaborative approach in the city so that we can begin to turn the tide on the inequalities that our patients live with.

This is a complex area, and if you would like more detail on our work I’d recommend reading this paper which was considered by our Board in September. I want to highlight a few examples of progress which is already underway either through our services directly, or through Collaborative Newcastle.

Recruiting a diverse workforce

The main drivers of health inequalities are the ‘social determinants’ of health – in essence this is the impact of things like: has someone got enough money, good enough housing and a decent job. As the biggest employer in the region we can play an important role here, and as we recruited 750 staff to work at our Integrated Covid Hub North East, this was at the front of our minds.

We specifically recruited in a way which encouraged and supported people from less advantaged communities to be successful. We advertised those jobs directly to communities, and worked with the voluntary sector and user led community development groups to attract candidates. This was really successful and showed that it is possible to attract a different workforce to health roles if we think differently.

I was delighted that the team won a HR industry award for this success, and the whole team is proud of the approach they took. It also built on our previous experience of running a number of other recruitment approaches which specifically target BAME and disabled candidates, in partnership with our staff networks and neighbouring trusts. This not only supports the ‘wealth’ of our communities, but it also brings the very best talent and skill to our workforce – making us one of the most diverse workforces in the North East.

It is important that we not only recruit a diverse workforce, but provide equal opportunities for development. We recognise that whilst there are a number of leadership and development programmes available to all staff, there was nothing that is specifically aimed at BAME staff, that allows a ‘safe space’ to both talk freely, develop and share learning. The BAME Talent Development Programme is open to all staff who identify as Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and are Band 5 and above. The programme will begin on 15 February 2022, with 12 sessions running over six days.

For further information about the programme, please contact Karen Pearce, Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (People): [email protected]

I am acutely aware, that there are still people within our workforce who struggle with debt, illness and poverty. Our chaplaincy team and charity are here to help and have worked hard to make sure that there is easy and quick help for you. If you need benefits advice, are struggling with illness or disability or debt within your family, we can provide immediate, dedicated access to confidential and practical support from Citizens Advice in Gateshead. We also have a fund to specifically help staff to pay for meals and other essentials. Please get in touch, in complete confidence, with one of our chaplains via switchboard if you need help.

COVID-19 and vaccination

COVID-19 has shone an important spotlight on health inequalities. Nationally people aged under 65 and living in the poorest 10% of areas are four times more likely to die from Covid than people living in the wealthiest areas. People of Bangladeshi heritage have twice the risk of dying from the Coronavirus than people of white ethnicity. This is linked to existing chronic health and social inequalities, and has left some parts of the UK much more vulnerable to the virus.

On Wednesday I had the pleasure of returning to the Centre for Life to celebrate the anniversary of us giving some of the first vaccines in the world to the public. I met Hari Shukla and his wife Ranju who received those first injections from one of our most experienced nurses, Suzanne Medows live on TV. Hari told me about the work he has done over the last year to encourage people from every background to accept the offer of a vaccine. This has included talking to numerous community groups and faith communities and working with the vaccination team to provide pop-up surgeries in mosques and gudwarahs. He is an inspirational figure who has dedicated his life to equalities and it was humbling to meet him. It was a clear reminder of the difference that we can all make in the world.

Through all of our work with Collaborative Newcastle we have focussed on reaching the parts of our communities that are particularly deprived. We have combined our efforts with the city council, primary care networks and voluntary sector to build on the success of community link workers, social prescribing and other community development approaches to support from within communities.

A crucial part of this is through the vaccination programme where we have taken a health equity approach to the roll out – doing our best to ensure that all of our citizens have easy and direct access to vaccination. We know this has an impact as we saw the vaccination rate for people from a black African ethnic background increase from 38% in January to 70% in May 2021 after targeted work. Our Integrated Covid Hub North East (ICHNE) has successfully worked with the homeless community to provide Covid testing and offer practical help to keep them safe and well.

Within the trust

The NHS is one of the most equitable healthcare systems in the world but there is so much that we can do within our hospitals and community services to tackle health inequalities. This can be around making sure that people have prompt access to care, positive experience of care, and good outcomes.

In practice we know that we have over 200,000 people in the North East with undiagnosed hypertension, far too many people presenting with late stage cancer and significant gaps in life expectancy for people in our own communities with severe mental ill health and learning disabilities.

In my last blog I announced that we have now welcomed two clinical directors and three clinical leads to focus on this work in the trust, I also met recently with Sarah Brown, our associate medical director who leads our psychiatric liaison team and works jointly with the team at Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust. I know how passionate each of these leaders are about the impact their roles can make and look forward to learning from them.

But there is a contribution that each of us can make in our daily work by being mindful of inequalities and taking small actions to help. Perhaps that is by supporting the parent of a child with learning disabilities when they are struggling, or by arranging an interpreter for someone whose first language isn’t English, or by learning more about how our behaviour can affect others. As is so often the case, it’s the small things that we do, alongside bigger strategic changes, which make the difference to our patients and their families.

Operational update

I always maintain a strong focus on the daily activity in our hospitals and wider community, and the particular pressures that everyone is feeling. Our organisation remains incredibly busy with an unprecedented volume of urgent and routine referrals which we continue to manage alongside covid. Today we are caring for around 40 patients with COVID-19 and I know everyone is closely monitoring the potential impact of the Omicron variant both in terms of the variant’s transmissibility and any possible effect on our vaccines. As always we will continue to look at every solution to support teams under pressure.

HR and IT visits

My regular Chief Execs check-in took me to Regent Point to see the HR and IT teams last week. They quietly play an essential role and many don’t appreciate how important or wide their role is.

In HR, our recruitment team brought in an amazing 5,738 new staff to the trust this year, including to the main hospital and community services, ICHNE and of course to the regional vaccination programme. They have focused relentlessly on recruiting for equality and diversity and have transformed every aspect of their work to respond to the organisation’s needs.

It was really humbling to hear from our staff bank team that over 3,000 people have come back to work since January to support the vaccination programme and clinical services and we now have a range of professions including chaplains on our bank to call upon.

It was great to talk to the advisory and medical staffing teams and hear about the difference that flexible working has made to so many staff – opening up new opportunities for our valuable staff to work differently. As a trust we have committed to being a more flexible place to work and you can find out more about flexible working here.

Our small staff engagement team has recently completed the Staff Survey fieldwork, receiving over 7,341 responses – our biggest data sample ever and they are already thinking about how to use that feedback for improvement so that we can further understand what matters to you and make more positive changes.

Finally in HR, I met the equality and diversity team who are looking forward to celebrating 10 years of Project Choice in the trust. It’s amazing that 75% of the people who take a project choice placement transition to a full-time paid role with us.

It was also great to spend some time with the IT team who have worked incredibly hard and developed so much since the trust went ‘Paperlite’ in 2019. It was great to see the ongoing development, optimisation and ambition of our electronic patient record. The team have an endless list of brilliant ideas from clinicians and other staff which will improve digital health and make our pathways across the hospital and throughout our Collaborative Newcastle community services more effective and efficient.

They also host the Great North Care Record on behalf of the North East and Cumbria ICS which is a critical tool to support patients and a wonderful example of the region pulling together. Especially given that a major part – the Health Information Exchange – launched in March 2020, just as lockdown hit. You can learn more about the Great North Care Record in this short video.

IT never stands still and there are exciting new developments on the horizon – the patient information exchange, supporting research infrastructure, digital nurse placements and so much more.

Thank you to every person working in these teams. I know how hard you are working and it’s very much appreciated.

Integrated COVID Hub North East

The north east’s Covid hub has received further recognition for its role in the regional pandemic response, in particular for the co-ordination of testing, contact tracing and innovative science.

During a virtual visit to the hub on Monday 29 November, Sir Liam Donaldson, Chair for the Integrated Care System for the North East and North Cumbria, Alan Milburn, previous Secretary of State for Health, and Chris Day, vice-chancellor of Newcastle University, were shown a live stream of Covid testing at the regional Lighthouse lab, before hearing how the innovation lab is evaluating new Covid diagnostics for a number of national and international clients and how the co-ordination and response centre team is providing additional resource and insight to support local authority and UKHSA partners.

In particular, they were shown how teams from the different elements of the hub are able to take a truly collaborative approach, which complements each other’s work and areas of expertise and strengthens many aspects of our regional response.

Discussion also focused on the potential for building on the unique regional resources provided by the hub as we go forward through this pandemic and into the future.

The trust on TV

This week we have been joined again by Hugh Pym, BBC Health Editor to continue his series of reports from Newcastle Hospitals about the pressures the NHS is under this winter. I hope you were able to watch his reports on news programmes throughout the day. Journalist Jim Reed also spent some time in our ED last week and you can read his piece for BBC online here.

You might also have heard that we have been working with production company Curve Media over the last few months on a major new television series about our hospitals and staff.

We wanted to show the very best of Newcastle in a warm and engaging way – focussing on our world class clinicians as well as our extremely valued support staff who are all equally important in caring for our patients.  I’m very grateful to all of the staff and patients who gave their time and expertise to help us make this programme.

We’re delighted that Channel 4 will be broadcasting this series in the New Year. Inevitably we can’t feature everyone, and we’re always looking out for further opportunities to showcase the great work that goes on throughout our hospitals and community services.

Celebrating Disability History Month

In celebration of Disability History Month, the three chairs of the disability and carer staff networks from Newcastle Hospitals, Northumbria Police and the North East Ambulance Service will be holding a ‘meet the chairs’ event next Thursday (16 December) from 12noon to 1pm. During this session, the chairs will be sharing their own personal experiences of disability and long-term health conditions and why they are so committed to driving forward their networks, the support they offer and how you can get involved. You can register for the event here.

Awards and Achievements

There are a number of awards and achievements I’d like to mention this week:

Sustainability Partnerships Procurement Award – Our procurement team won the Sustainability Partnerships Procurement Award for the development of their innovative 5 step process to support suppliers from the largest to the smallest on the collective journey to Net Zero Carbon by 2040.

Chair appointment – Dr Anita Devlin, consultant paediatric neurologist, was appointed as the Chair of the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) Global Task Force for Dietary Therapies, and has subsequently become a member of the ILAE Global Commission on Medical Therapies.

HR Excellence Awards – As mentioned above, our HR team were awarded Best Recruitment and Workforce Planning Strategy for their ‘recruiting for diversity’ campaign for the Integrated COVID Hub North East. Not only did they significantly increase our ethnic minority appointment rate, they also achieved this across the diversity strands of disability and LGBT+.

Health Business Awards – Collaborative Newcastle was awarded the NHS Collaboration Award at the Health Business awards for our Joint System Leadership Programme with colleagues across the city.

Congratulations to you all!