Our children, our future

Last week, the End Child Poverty Coalition published new data about child poverty. Shockingly, this showed that in 2020/2021, the North East overtook London to have the highest rate of child poverty in the UK, at 38% – up from 37% the year before.

This equates to just over 11 children in a classroom of 30. Newcastle itself now has the largest percentage of children living in relative poverty (after housing costs) at 42%.

This statistic stopped me in my tracks. We are sadly all too conscious of families and children who struggle financially – and especially with the impact of the cost of living crisis – but to think that more than 40% of the children in our communities are experiencing poverty is heart-breaking. These are children who are born here in our hospital and who will be cared for throughout their lives by our teams.

Poverty has a significant and lifelong impact on the health of these young people, creating further inequality and embedding those economic inequalities into health conditions. We also know that children with disabilities and long-term health conditions are even more likely to experience poverty during their lifetimes.

How can we respond?

As an organisation we’ve committed to working with our partners to create a diverse and more equal city, and to drive up the health, wealth and wellbeing of our communities.

Reports like this remind us that we need to understand more about the circumstances that our local children live in, so that we can leverage our assets to help. It can seem like an overwhelming problem, but in fact many different parts of the organisation, and the wider city and region, are taking positive and effective action.


Under the leadership of Dr Mike McKean, Consultant in Paediatric Respiratory Medicine and Clinical lead for the Child Health and Wellbeing Network, poverty and inequality has been a central theme which has driven work to challenge the status quo and make a practical difference to children. The network has focussed on the additional disadvantage that poor health and disability in childhood creates, highlighting that:

  • A low-birth-weight baby is five times more likely to die as an infant than those of normal birth weight.
  • One in four children are overweight or obese when they start school which puts them at greater risk of poorer school attainment, emotional difficulties, or cardiovascular disease and diabetes in later life.
  • 75% of all mental health problems are established by the time someone is 18.
  • Adverse childhood experiences are increasingly being recognised as having a lasting effect on adult health.
  • A child’s early development score at 22 months is an accurate predictor of educational outcomes at the age of 26 which, in turn, is related to long term health outcomes. We know that there is a link between poverty and all of these health factors. And this publication contains a huge range of projects that have been undertaken. I was really inspired by some of these impactful pieces of work.

In our hospitals

Focussing on children and families means looking far beyond the very important services that we provide at the Great North Children’s Hospital and through some of our other highly specialist services like children’s heart services. (Although even here there is much more we can do, and I would recommend the ICS publication ‘poverty proofing health settings’ as a good challenge to all of us).

Increasingly though, we need to think about the role we play in our communities, both as a healthcare provider and, also, as the biggest employer in the City. I want to highlight some of the great work that we are involved in; very often created and sustained by passionate people wanting to do something to make a real difference.

In our communities

As part of Collaborative Newcastle, working with the city council, primary care and the community and voluntary sector, we’ve created Children & Families Newcastle. For the first time we’ve brought all of our services like health visiting, family support, community midwifery, mental health support, children’s therapies, youth provision, training opportunities, childcare and employability services, together into communities – where people have told us that they would prefer to come.

We’ve created vibrant Community Hubs across the City which provide friendly safe spaces with services for babies, children, young people and families The Hubs link with smaller organisations and services locally, including the voluntary sector organisations and schools, to create a network in each locality.

These are social spaces that also offer a range of practical, educational and well-being activities for children and families. Activities offered in each local area will be shaped by input from the local community

We’ve also introduced Family Partners, a new role designed to help children, young people and families navigate services available to them and help them to work with organisations providing help. The Family Partners work closely with families, building trusting relationships that empower them to make positive changes and they can liaise with services involved with a family, such as schools and health professionals. They can also connect people into local activities, training and development opportunities or professional support depending upon their needs.

For young people thinking about the future, Collaborative Newcastle Partners have this week launched the ‘EVRY child plan’ which has an ambition to empower young people and make Newcastle a place where every child and young person can achieve a successful future.

The Evry programme offers a diverse range of opportunities, one of the most exciting is to offer 500 high quality apprenticeships over the next two years which will move young people towards sustainable, high-quality careers.

Alongside that there will be targeted support for young people from the four schools in the City which have traditionally seen high levels of inequality. They will be able to access wraparound support and will focus on essential English and maths skills to provide a firm foundation for the future.

In our organisation

The Evry initiative will build upon a strong track record of apprenticeship and also work experience in our own organisation, which has carried on throughout the pandemic with over 700 young people taking part in virtual work experience to help raise their aspirations and consider NHS careers.

I was very proud to learn that 33% of the young people who joined us for work experience were in receipt of free school meals and 56% would be the first in their family to attend university. That’s a significant achievement for those young people, and a real credit to our teams that offer placements.

I was also delighted to be able to join our latest project choice graduation last week. Project Choice is a great initiative – a supported internship programme for young adults aged 16-24 with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, and/ or Autism.

Later this year we will celebrate 10 years of Project Choice in Newcastle Hospitals with over 100 interns benefiting from the programme.

I am always blown away to see the impact that internships have for those young people. Hearing the stories of them becoming more confident, finding their voices, fitting into a team and succeeding in learning new work skills is always emotional – even more so when they are joined by their very proud parents and equally proud mentors who have supported and trained them.

It’s the highlight of my year to award those certificates, because it really is a life changing achievement – especially when so many students are then able to secure real, rewarding, paid work as a result.

These examples may seem small, but collectively they demonstrate that we can make a difference to the place we live and the people we support. Helping one person may not seem like it will change the world, but it could and does change the world for that one person. We can all make an impact and I’d like to acknowledge and thank everyone who is quietly, but determinedly, supporting their patients who are experiencing disadvantage each day.

Support for staff

Our helping hands support is available to any member of staff in need. All staff at Newcastle Hospitals have direct access to confidential support from Citizens Advice Gateshead. The service is open to every member of staff and volunteer – whether you have money worries, need help completing benefits forms or need advice on how to access support. You can get more info here.

You can speak with a Citizens Advice 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,

Freeman Hospital main block) Whilst this support can be accessed by our chaplaincy team as part of their support to staff, 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.

Providing staff with direct access to the Citizens Advice Gateshead service forms part of the chaplaincy’s Helping Hands support offer to staff in financial crisis, and is supported by Newcastle Hospitals Charity.

For more information about Helping Hands, chaplaincy can be reached 24/7 every day of the year on either extension 48129 (8.30am – 4.30pm), or through switchboard at all other times.

Operational update

This week’s unprecedented weather has brought significant challenges and once again, everyone across the trust has responded magnificently. Many clinical and support teams needed to respond at speed to the changing situation and most have endured an uncomfortable few days.

Thank you especially to the estates, IT, pharmacy and catering teams who once again stepped up maintain crucial systems as well as everyone on clinical shifts who kept our patients safe.

I would also like to thank our Emergency Department and all the teams who have been working so hard to support patient flow.

A new report released from NHSBT also revealed there were 28 patients who donated their organs after death at Newcastle Hospitals last year. This has helped to save or improve the lives of some of the 4,324 people desperately in need of a transplant in the UK. You can find more information here.

QI case study

I’m dedicated to supporting a culture where Quality Improvement is an integral part of everyone’s daily work through learning, improving and innovating. We all have to think differently to ensure we are in the strongest possible position to address any challenges ahead – working smarter, not harder.

That’s why I always find it so inspiring to hear about real changes that have been implemented by teams across Newcastle and continue to share these in my blog. You can watch our latest QI improvement story here, which talks about how our cardiology team used an improvement approach to shorten the time patients are waiting for a Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implantation (TAVI) procedure.

If you are feeling inspired to lead change in your area, speak to Newcastle Improvement for more information and about how to use the model for improvement at [email protected]

Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) annual visit

Thank you to everyone who made the IHI feel so welcome at their annual visit to the Trust last week. They spent two days listening and learning from our staff about their experiences of delivering quality improvement programmes, alongside their usual service delivery.

Newcastle Improvement led the visit and introduced them to a number of teams who gave our IHI colleagues a greater insight into our organisation, its values, strategies, aspirations and commitment to quality healthcare and improvement.

We very much look forward to welcoming the IHI back to Newcastle in September when they will be meeting with colleagues participating in the What Matters to You and Strategic Leaders Programme – hearing about their learning and the changes they have implemented.

They will also take part in our ‘Leadership Matters – listening and learning to accelerate progress’ event, where we will pull together our WMTY projects and launch our new leadership behaviours. We will be sharing more information about this event over the coming weeks.


As mentioned in my last blog, we have joined forces with our colleagues in the Blue Light Services to host a Pride Breakfast Event tomorrow at the Civic Centre from 10am.

This year marks the first time we can come together in person to mark Northern Pride since 2019 and we begin our celebrations by jointly hosting a breakfast reception at Newcastle Civic Centre alongside NEAS, Northumbria Police and Tyne & Wear Fire and Rescue Service. Anyone can attend the breakfast and march and you’re welcome to bring family along with you.

There are a limited number of spaces left for the breakfast reception, please email [email protected] if you would like to join us.

Our charity has also been offered complementary tickets for NHS staff to the Northern Pride launch event on this evening. Tickets can be booked via this link using the password which is available on the Intranet.

Awards and achievements

George Cross presentation – It was lovely to see Her Majesty The Queen presenting the George Cross to NHS England Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard and May Parsons, a matron for respiratory services who delivered the world’s first COVID vaccination in December 2020, who received the medal for NHS staff. You can read more here

PhD success – Well done to two of our Radiotherapy Physics colleagues who were awarded their PhDs earlier this month. Dr Zoë Davidson studied for her PhD on ‘Multi-channel optical probing of high power laser-plasma interactions’ at the University of Strathclyde, and has since joined NCCC as a Trainee Clinical Scientist.

Dr Jonathan Wyatt was seconded from the Radiotherapy Physics department to Newcastle University to complete his PhD on ‘MR-only and PET-MR for radiotherapy of pelvic cancers’. He has now re-joined the department as a Lead Clinical Scientist. Congratulations to them both!

International Nurses’ Career Clinic – It’s fantastic to see our first International Nurses’ Careers Clinic for our newly arrived nurses from overseas. We truly appreciate the life changing decision they’ve made to start a new life here in Newcastle and we’re here to support them all the way.

SIREN study

I was delighted to hear that 383 staff have volunteered their time to take part in the SIREN study since its launch two years ago.

The two-year study aims to help understand immunity to COVID-19 and vaccine effectiveness. Taking part in the study is no small undertaking, with staff required to do fortnightly COVID testing and attend blood tests at least every three months.

The fact that staff gave up their time to be part of SIREN while working under some of the most pressured times we’ve experienced as a trust makes me incredibly proud. My particular thanks goes to Dr Brendan Payne who ran the study with research delivery teams and laboratory staff.

Research has played a huge part in tackling COVID and remains a vital part of managing the virus in the future.

Research Matters

I am delighted to share the summer edition of our trust newsletter Research Matters which shines a light on how we use patient feedback to improve research as well as some recent achievements.