Our ambitions to become carbon net zero

It is now three years since we became the first healthcare organisation in the world to declare a climate emergency, publicly acknowledging the link between the health of our planet and the health of our people.

We committed to take action to fast track a reduction in our carbon emissions and across our organisation and the NHS we’ve been spreading the message that there is no human health without planetary health.

By declaring, we pledged to reach to net-zero at the pace that scientists tell us is needed. The reality is that to limit global temperature increases, society needs to cut emissions now.

We cannot backload reductions towards 2030 or a later date. Global temperatures have already increased by more than 1.1 C from pre-industrial levels and are projected to continue beyond the 1.5 C safe limit cited in the Paris Agreement.

Left unabated, climate breakdown will define the health profile of current and future generations and will challenge our already overwhelmed health systems. This is one of the most pressing and urgent challenges that affects us all, and I’ve committed to doing what I can personally to raise awareness.

I have been pleased to speak on major platforms including COP26 and the recent NHS Confederation conference in Liverpool to challenge the status quo and speak truth to power. Given the climate breakdown that we are facing, we cannot do anything but speak frankly and honestly with each other about how the NHS is currently doing.

In short, we need to scale up and speed up our collective efforts.

I know how important this ambition is to so many members of staff – your work and energy gives me hope. The reality is that none of our significant achievements would have been possible without the passion and commitment of our staff. It was staff within our organisation who asked us to make the climate emergency declaration and who have driven our work on SHINE – Sustainable Healthcare in Newcastle.

I’m incredibly grateful to our 300+ green champions and over 1,000 shine app users who have taken over 50,000 actions together to make a difference. This year we have made some huge steps forward together including:

  • Welcoming baby Rosie into the world as the first baby in the UK to be born with the help of climate-friendly gas and air. By introducing new technology in our maternity services, we are capturing and destroying the damaging nitrous oxide that would normally get exhaled into the air.
  • The introduction of electric cargo bikes to deliver medical equipment and pharmaceuticals to patients in congested parts of the city – saving 3,000 journeys a month and reducing emissions by the equivalent of 549kg of carbon dioxide.
  • Removing Nitrous Oxide and desflurane from theatres at our Freeman Hospital, a process driven by our clinical teams.
  • Delivering the world’s first certified carbon neutral cataract surgery at our Newcastle Eye Centre – the most commonly carried out operation in the NHS.

Alongside that, more of our waste is recycled, re-used and sent for energy recovery than ever before with 52% of our non-clinical waste being recycled.

We’re also working across our supply chain through our sustainable procurement group which has developed an award-winning five-step framework to engage our suppliers and achieve net zero in the emissions we influence. So far over 750 suppliers have responded, and almost 90% of them pledged support to help us achieve our net zero carbon goals.

But despite all of the hard work, we’re currently not on track for the NHS to make the reductions needed. As an organisation, our carbon emissions have actually have increased last year and that’s for one simple reason – the volume of emissions that are caused by heating and powering our buildings.

Newcastle is not unusual in this. Fossil gas-powered Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants are pretty standard across NHS hospitals and as it stands, we don’t have a short-term solution to replace them.

We need to quickly agree the blueprint and secure the significant investment needed to transition our heat so that in the future it is produced in a climate-friendly way. Significantly greater priority and investment will be needed in decarbonising the NHS estate than we are currently seeing.

Our team are working on options for the decarbonisation of heat, including through participation in the regional hydrogen working group and the development of a strategic low carbon heat network project with city partners through Collaborative Newcastle.

We have well developed plans that would mean our new specialist hospital would be fully net-zero and as we develop other new building projects including our day treatment centre and children’s heart centre, we are focussing on reaching the highest environmental standards that we can.

I will continue to work hard to influence our politicians and NHS leaders of the vital need to invest in decarbonising the NHS estate and we will be true to our principles as we make investment decisions here in Newcastle.

The ICS Clean Air Framework

Last Friday (1 July) saw the formal launch of Integrated Care Systems, replacing clinical commissioning groups and giving the NHS a clear focus on four areas:

  • Improve outcomes in population health and healthcare;
  • Tackle inequalities in outcomes, experience and access;
  • Enhance productivity and value for money;
  • Help the NHS support broader social and economic development

You can learn more about the North East and North Cumbria ICS here.

Our team in Newcastle has been supporting the developing ICS to establish its role in tackling the climate emergency. Along with partners ‘Global Action Plan’ and Boehringer Ingelheim we have explored the challenge of air pollution in the North East and North Cumbria and looked at opportunities for improvement, presented in the ‘Levers for Change’ report.

Together we then developed and tested the ICS Clean Air Framework and developed the UK’s first ever ICS Clean Air Action Plan. This short video (which features our own Associate Director of Sustainability, James Dixon) explains the importance of this work and the need for all ICSs to adopt this free-to-use toolkit for taking action in their region.

Operational update

It has been a very challenging few weeks across our services. We have been exceptionally busy in the Emergency Department and are seeing more people who are very unwell – both children and adults – although the reasons for this are not fully understood.

Over the course of last week (week ending 3 July), we had 2,976 Type 1 attendances in Accident and Emergency – the highest level in six weeks – and attendances of all types climbed beyond 5,000 (5,035) for the first time in five weeks. Type 1 paediatric attendances were also at their second highest level in this calendar year, with 874 recorded.

To give you a snapshot of the pressures, on Monday 27 June we were booking in 46 people per hour and saw 868 patients – at one point in time we had 166 patients waiting in the department.

These higher levels of acuity, increasing COVID-19 numbers (although this is now showing some signs of decline) – and the associated challenges that brings, such as staff-related sickness, higher rates of bed occupancy and discharging patients, have all had an impact on our services.

As always, it has been reassuring to see everyone pulling together to care for our patients.

I am pleased to see that that number of patients waiting a long time continues to reduce and last week we had 42 patients who had been waiting more than 104 weeks for surgery (most of it very complex spinal surgery) which has halved since the beginning of May.

The number of people waiting longer than 78 weeks also reduced to 634 by the end of last week – the lowest total in this category since April 2021. I know how hard all everyone is working to reduce our waiting list backlogs.

In cancer services, we are continuing to do focused work with our teams to ensure patients get access to the high-quality care they need and in good time. This includes investing in endoscopy capacity by opening a new room at the RVI with an additional nurse endoscopist.

The dermatology team have also done some incredible work with the skin cancer pathway using digital solutions to improve access and view images remotely, reducing the need for some patients to attend the hospital.

Recent visits

A number of national figures have visited Newcastle Hospitals in the last fortnight to see how we are addressing the challenges faced by the NHS. These have included: (in order of their visits)

  • Ian Trenholm, Chief Executive of the CQC
  • Sir Chris Wormald KCB, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health and Social Care
  • Dr Thomas Waite, Deputy Chief Medical Officer
  • Professor Sir Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer
  • Andrea Sutcliffe CBE, Chief Executive and Registrar, the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

I’d like to thank everyone who has shown visitors around and answered their questions.

Chief People Officer

After more than 13 years with us, our Director of HR Dee Fawcett plans to retire in November and we are now looking to appoint a Chief People Officer to the Board. I would like to thank Dee for her leadership and support to staff.

As an organisation, we will continue to focus on engagement, enhancing our staff experiences, prioritising the health and wellbeing of colleagues, improving our approach to inclusion and diversity and provide opportunities which support quality improvement, personal development and innovation.

Time to flex: embracing flexible working

Working in the NHS, we are reminded every day about how precious life is.

With this in mind, our aim is to be a more flexible and agile working organisation – a place where we can all talk openly about how we might be able to accommodate a range of flexible working arrangements – whether that’s job sharing, part time, compressed hours, variable hours or another flexible pattern.

If it works for the service, we will all do our best to make it work for you.

When we think about flexible working, we may assume it is just for people with care responsibilities, but it is for anyone who wants work in a better way, for example for their wellbeing or to improve their work/life balance.

Having a conversation about it can provide an opportunity to think creatively about whether your team needs to consider if current arrangements work effectively, and whether things could be improved by working in a more flexible way, including increasing efficiency or creating capacity.

Adopting a more flexible approach not only helps individuals personally, but also helps them to do their best work to ultimately improve our services for patients.

We want to positively encourage individuals, managers and teams to talk together and explore solutions to flexible working requests; recognising that if a specific suggestion doesn’t work for the service, there may be another alternative worthy of consideration.

It’s about having open and honest conversations to find these solutions and accepting that ‘one size’ doesn’t fit all. It may be possible to have a range of solutions.

We recognise that not every ward or department can accommodate flexible and agile working in a traditional way. Increasingly the technology is available for working differently and during the pandemic many of us became very familiar with remote working, and virtual consultations – how can this be maintained or expanded and benefit the service?

We may not be able to provide everyone with exactly the request they make, but we will try to be creative in meeting your wishes alongside our service needs. If you are feeling inspired to work differently, you can learn more about how our district nursing team introduced flexible working for the benefit of staff and patients here.

If you are looking to talk to someone about flexible working, or if you are a manager who would like support on how to resolve any issues that arise, we have more information on the intranet.

Flexible working clinics will also take place later in July and early August for guidance, advice and support, and we will be releasing more information around this soon. In the meantime, if you have any queries please email: [email protected]

QI Case Study – continence team

Our continence team has won an award for an improvement project which has given patients a much better experience and quality of life. Find out more here.

Pride march and breakfast event

We have joined forces with our colleagues in the Blue Light Services (police, fire and ambulance) to host a Pride Breakfast Event on Saturday 23rd July at Newcastle Civic Centre from 10am.

Enjoy some breakfast before setting off for the spectacular march, which starts at 12 noon from Newcastle Civic Centre and goes through the centre of Newcastle. Anyone can attend the breakfast and march and you’re welcome to bring family along with you.

If you would like to join us for breakfast please book your space by emailing the LGBT staff network inbox to register your interest and provide the names of those wishing to attend [email protected]

Team NHS – Blue Wave

The NHS Blue Wave is returning this year at the Great North Run 5K on Friday 9 September, kicking off the Great North Run weekend. The event brings you and your colleagues together from across the NHS to have fun and improve your health and wellbeing as part of one of the biggest running events in the UK.

After the success of the NHS Wave back in 2019, we want to bring back this energy and excitement into this year’s event. Supporting your health and wellbeing is a key focus for our Flourish programme, particularly as we recover from the pandemic.

For 2022 we want as many of you as possible to get involved, hitting the streets to celebrate the unity of Newcastle Hospitals. This event truly is for everyone, whether you’d rather run, jog, walk or use a wheelchair. It’s all about taking part, building up some team spirit, and celebrating the NHS.

Thanks to the generosity of our charity, we have a limited number of FREE places to join this NHS exclusive wave. This means that you will be helping us to support patients, visitors, the wider hospital community – and of course, staff like you!

To join the team and claim your free place, we ask that you pledge to raise £25 for Newcastle Hospitals Charity. Sign up here.

3 peaks challenge

A team of staff swapped hospital corridors for the great outdoors last weekend, taking part in the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge.

Some of our charity team were joined by head of chaplaincy, Katie Watson and nurse specialist, Sean Marshall-Kellie as they completed a 24.5-mile hike of Peny-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough in just 12 hours and faced some terrible weather!

The team were raising money for our Newcastle Hospitals Charity and you can read more about their fundraising efforts here.

Awards and achievements

Huge congratulations to our recently retired hotel services manager, Jackie Thompson, who has won a NHS Parliamentary Award for Lifetime Achievement and contribution.

From domestic supervisor to hotel services manager Jackie dedicated over 47 years to Newcastle Hospitals – a truly remarkable achievement.

She was nominated by Newcastle Mp Chi Onwurah and you can read more about the awards here.

Congratulations also to all our finalists who have been shortlisted in the following categories in the 2022 Nursing Times Awards and good luck on 26 October.

  • Clinical research nursing – using patient and public involvement to improve the clinical pathway for cancer patients in clinical trials during the pandemic.
  • Continence promotion and care – RUG: reducing urinary gram-negative blood stream infections
  • Theatre and surgical nursing – student theatre workshop project