One day at a time

Two weeks ago in my blog I wrote about how we are doing – both personally as we each recover from the pandemic and as an organisation serving our communities. I want to return to that subject again this week.

I think we had all hoped that things might start to feel a little better, day by day, as we moved toward the end of the acute impact from the pandemic and began to establish our new normal. That has not proved to be the case, and in the last fortnight we have seen a further surge in cases of COVID-19 across the North East.

We currently have 39 patients with covid across our hospitals, and this figure is continuing to rise. Thankfully, it is becoming clear that the vaccination programme is making a difference to the severity of infections we are seeing. Hospital admissions here have escalated less quickly than in previous waves, but it’s striking that we still have people with severe covid illness in our intensive care units.

Our emergency attendances remain at unprecedented levels in both adult and children’s departments and everyone is working hard to tackle our backlog of elective activity so that patients don’t need to wait any longer than necessary. I know that areas such as our cancer directorate, the children’s hospital, transplant and our maternity services are also exceptionally busy.

On top of that, and due to the wider opening up of society, many staff have been contacted through the NHS COVID-19 app to advise that they may have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. This has created significant absences and therefore pressures on all of our teams across the organisation.

I’m also mindful of the anxieties that staff have shared with me about the impact of the further lifting of restrictions planned for 19 July. The Prime Minister has set out the detail of changes to the compulsory wearing of masks and the 2 metre rule and I know that many people are worried about how that will affect us.

So how can we respond to this situation?

Firstly, I want to say thank you – genuinely and from the heart, to everyone for their flexibility, hard work and determination to do the best for our patients. Many people have been flexible enough to work in different wards and services to support colleagues and patients, others have worked with lower levels of staffing than we would like.

All of these efforts are appreciated and noticed. I have to be honest with you and say that these challenges are not likely to be resolved quickly and we will need to keep asking people to be flexible over the next few weeks. I know also that most people put themselves under enormous pressure to attend work, even when they aren’t well themselves so that they don’t let colleagues down; and we are all balancing difficult situations in our home lives as well, with children isolating and worries for more vulnerable relatives and friends. None of this is simple.

It’s important that we all look after ourselves and each other. We would like people to take rest and leave where you can because this is so important for your own wellbeing and restoration, but we acknowledge that this is really difficult at the moment.

Throughout the pandemic we have focussed on protecting our staff and that remains our priority. We made sure that we had no shortages of PPE and that we gave clear and consistent guidance to staff and patients to keep people safe. We will continue to do that. I can assure you that our Medical Director, Executive Chief Nurse and Director of Infection Prevention Control will continue to make decisions on what is right for our Trust particularly in relation to mask wearing in hospital and visiting arrangements.

We are a Trust that has had among the lowest rates of nosocomial (hospital acquired) covid infections in the UK. This has been down to everyone’s best efforts in keeping ourselves and each other safe, and by the skilled and detailed investigation and advice from our own in house test and trace team, infection control experts and occupational health.  We have also had immediate access to PCR testing for staff and family members throughout.

It is really important that everyone continues to follow the detailed Trust guidance about what to do if you feel unwell and need a test or if you receive a notification from the NHS COVID-19 app. App notifications are not legally binding and in some circumstances do not mean that self-isolation is inevitable. In specific cases we can look at individual risk assessments with our public health colleagues to enable people to remain at work to support the team, so please do follow the detailed advice.

I can assure you that we are working hard behind the scenes with national bodies to influence the government and policy makers and make sure they are cited on these pressures. We continue to use every possible lever to advocate for our local services on the national stage so that we can keep on doing what we do best – provide outstanding healthcare.

National NHS Service of Thanksgiving

On Monday 5 July, the NHS’s 73rd anniversary, five of our clinicians took part in a special service of commemoration and thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral. They include Dr Matthias Schmid and Dr Ashley Price who were part of the team who treated the UK’s first confirmed COVID-19 patients; Dr Lucia Pareja-Cebrian our director of IPC and Dr Victoria Miller and Maria Wafer who helped to establish our long covid clinics. Each of them has shared their reflections on the pandemic which can be read here. I know that they appreciated the opportunity to represent all of us at this wonderful service.

I was very proud that Dr Price was invited to speak at the service, and you may have seen him on the national news programmes on Monday. He commented, “Throughout the pandemic we have strived to put the care of our patients and their families at the forefront and I witnessed compassion in the great care that was given in very difficult circumstances.

“The whole trust pulled together to help and we helped to support each other through these difficult times.”

The service was a tribute to all NHS staff who have worked through the pandemic, and took place on the same day that her majesty the Queen honoured the entire NHS by awarding the George Cross in recognition of the courage, compassion and dedication that has been shown.

The thanks of a grateful nation were summed up by Bishop Sarah, Bishop of London: ‘Ask any nurse on any ward today who is their neighbour and they will say the person they are caring for, irrespective of race, gender, sexuality, disability or ability to pay. NHS healthcare workers put tenderness, kindness, empathy and compassion into a £130 billion pound organisation. They have done this, day after day, over the last 18 months, despite their own fears and extreme pressure of work. They have taken on new roles and stepped up to think of others before themselves – even in the face of death. We are profoundly thankful.” You can read Bishop Sarah’s full speech here.

The full speech from Sir Simon Stevens is also available to read here.

NHS Big Tea

Also on Monday we celebrated the NHS 73rd Birthday across the Trust thanks to Newcastle Hospitals Charity.

Over 13,000 colleagues from over 500 departments took part across the RVI, Freeman, community, Regent Point, our vaccination hubs and the Campus for Ageing and Vitality, with 131 teams fundraising for the official charity of Newcastle Hospitals. Locations stretched across the North East and Cumbria.

Newcastle Hospitals Charity provided refreshments as a token of appreciation for everyone’s remarkable efforts over the last 18 months. Special thanks to the Freeman and RVI Catering teams for their amazing work in organising the logistics and for 1NE for donating their time in delivering the parcels to all the locations. I hope you were able to take a few moments to take a break with tea and biscuits on Monday.

A week of Rainbows

I’m delighted that we’re one of just ten NHS Trusts to be selected to take part in a national pilot for phase two of the Rainbow Badge scheme, demonstrating our commitment to supporting and valuing LGBT+ staff and ensuring inclusive practices within its services.

At Newcastle Hospitals we introduced the Rainbow Badge in 2019 with over 5000 staff pledging to promote a message of LGBT+ inclusion, and to show that we are an inclusive workplace and service provider for LGBT+ people. But I know we have more we must do to support everyone in our workplace.

Phase two of the pilot will benchmark NHS organisations for their work on LGBT+ inclusion with a bronze, silver and gold tiered awards model. As part of the assessment process there is a staff and patient survey.  It would be fantastic to have as many staff as possible complete the survey available here.

For Pride week this year we are jointly hosting a national NHS wide series of virtual events – A week of rainbows, celebrating the diversity of the LGBT+ community. The programme of events will run from 19 – 23 July and is open to all staff. Find out more and book here.

Great North Run

It’s now been announced that the Great North Run will take a different route this year and will start and finish next to the RVI. Having taken part in the last GNR I know the sense of pride and achievement it gives to take part in this iconic North East event. If you would like to take part in this year’s GNR, we have a limited number of entries left to support Newcastle Hospitals Charity, including the Great North Children’s Hospital and the Sir Bobby Robson fund.

So if you’d like to be part of this ‘Great North Thank you’ and run this unique route (including running twice over the Tyne Bridge!) please get in touch by email [email protected] or sign up online here.

Awards and recognition

Congratulations to our procurement team who are finalists in the ‘COVID-19 Outstanding Response Award – NHS and Healthcare Organisations’ category in the UK GO Excellence in Public Procurement Awards. The awards showcase those organisations leading the way in public procurement best practice across all UK. Best of luck!

Good Luck England!

Best of luck to the England football team who are playing Italy in final of Euro 2020 this Sunday! To mark the team reaching the final we’ll be flying the St George’s Cross at both the Freeman and RVI this weekend.