Our Inheritance, Our Future

In 2003, Tony Blair’s government produced a new ground-breaking white paper – Our Inheritance, Our Future. That was less than 20 years ago, but it was one of the first government documents that highlighted the potential and ambition of the UK’s genomics programme.

It set out the absolute determination that the National Health Service should be able to respond to this new science so that the benefits of genetics and the more personalised and improved healthcare it will bring, are available to all.

In the two decades since then, there has been a revolution in precision and personalised medicine, and Newcastle has led the way.

I was reminded of the speed and scale of our ambition when I visited our clinical and laboratory genomics services on 16 August at the Centre for Life to find out more about their work and their developing practice, as well as the challenges they are tackling at present.

Most of us can be forgiven for not being familiar with this very complex and fast-moving area of medicine. Genetic laboratory testing for cancer and inherited disorders includes a range of investigations from simple targeted genetic tests on DNA or chromosomes, right up to whole genome sequencing (the genome being the sum total of all of the genetic material each of us inherits).

Clinical geneticists and genetic counsellors work closely with patients to communicate information to them in a way that helps them to understand the implications for themselves and their wider families of these life changing results.

The more we understand about the human genome, the greater the impact on our lives and on our healthcare. We’ve discovered that an increasing number of diseases are linked to particular genes or gene sequences and, as a result of research, we will be able to target and tailor better treatments to offset their impact and even to avoid the onset of ill-health many years in advance.

It’s absolutely clear that improving access to genomic medicine is key to providing a new generation of personalised care which delivers fast and specific diagnosis.

What fascinated me most during my visit, were the changes and improvements in clinical care that we are already offering to our patients. For example, I saw how the chromosomes and DNA of an acutely unwell leukaemia patient currently being treated at the Freeman Hospital were being checked so the most effective drug treatment could be selected for them. This needed to be done quickly to get them fast treatment without further deterioration.

Newcastle Genetics has been praised for being one of the best laboratories in the country at getting fast genetic results in leukaemia and it was easy to see why this dedicated and expert team are able to achieve this.

I also saw how lung cancer patients rely on the team’s expertise to ensure the best treatment is selected for them, with many therapies being specifically targeted to genetic abnormalities in the tumour cells.

I saw how the entire genetics team are working hard to deliver these critical tests as quickly as possible. A good example of this is the use of genetic testing for abnormalities in a gene called DPYD. Patients with changes in this gene are at risk of adverse reactions to some drugs including 5 Fluorouracil (5FU), used in the treatment of cancer. Patients who are shown to have a DPYD gene variant can be given alternative drugs reducing the chance of serious and even lethal side effects.

Our own team in Newcastle, working with colleagues from Cancer Research UK, and across the national genomic medicine service have developed a new test to speed up diagnosis in people at increased risk of bowel and other cancers using biopsy and urine samples.

Since 2018, we’ve worked in partnership with Leeds, Sheffield Teaching and Sheffield Children’s Hospitals to deliver the Genomics Laboratory Hub for the North East and Yorkshire – bringing together the best laboratory and clinical experts with international research and cutting-edge diagnostic innovations.

By working together we’ve built the capacity for this rapidly developing discipline, helping to speed up treatments and provide access to a wide and ever-increasing range of tests.
This positions us very positively to respond to the future so that we can continue to build our ambitions in genomic medicine as the NHS develops, and we can set the pace and the standards in this important area.

We are investing to improve IT systems, as well as in cutting-edge technology, to provide faster genome sequencing and develop new diagnostic techniques. The science, technology and logistics here are complex and constantly developing, and we need to stay ahead of the game to provide the best conditions to develop a world class service.

I am looking forward to speaking at the UK Genomics forum in October on the importance of partnerships in the development of genomic medicine and highlighting the great work of our teams to a wider audience.

Thank You Month – creating a culture of lifting each other up

My blog today launches our ‘Thank You’ Month which will run throughout September. I know that everyone is working incredibly hard every day and throughout the month we are focusing on the importance of saying thank you to each other – so I’ll begin here.

Every single one of us plays a key role in making our trust an outstanding place to be – and sometimes we need to stop for a moment and appreciate the part we all play. Hopefully, we can create an opportunity to reflect on the people we work with closely and express our appreciation for each other.
We can all do a little something to say thank you whether that’s making someone a quick cuppa, to sending a message of thanks to a colleague. Throughout the month you will be able to access thank you cards across the trust (or email [email protected] if you would like some), a new electronic tool called ‘Hive’ and of course some cake and other treats that can be shared together!

I would like teams to also think about your own ways to make this month special – and I’d love to hear about what you’ve done together. Here’s just a few of the highlights to look out for over the coming weeks:


The Great Newcastle Hospitals Bake Off

I am delighted to launch the Newcastle Hospitals Bake Off today. Our bake off is a light-hearted way of bringing teams together to appreciate each other and enjoy a slice or two of good cake.

Simply set a date and venue with your team between now and 26 September to take part in the bake off. You can judge your bakes using the score card and team winners will be awarded a much-coveted Newcastle Hospitals Bake Off wooden spoon. Don’t forget to take and share pictures of your creations!

All team winners are also invited to submit their entries into the grand final to crown the Newcastle Hospitals Bake Off Champion 2022. You can access the full guide on how the bake off will work here I really hope you all enjoy getting involved – and have some good cake along the way too!

Launching Hive

Over the coming weeks, our brand-new staff feedback platform Hive will be rolled-out across the Trust, beginning with the launch of HiFives.

HiFives are a quick, easy and instant recognition tool for colleagues. Whether you want to say thank you, or just show your appreciation, they’re a perfect way to put a smile on someone’s face. Our staff engagement team are also giving away five Hive hampers at the end of the first launch month, one for each of our trust values – so if you’ve been lucky to receive a HiFive, you’re in with a chance to win an amazing hamper.

Following the initial launch in mid-September, there will also be other features available over the coming months – such as surveys, so we can hear your voice, Hive open-door – an online forum – and Hive Messenger to promote two-way conversations around your opinions, concerns and feedback.

More information on each of these will be released soon, but for now, enjoy spreading a little happiness to our colleagues with HiFives this month.

Leadership Matters – listening and learning to accelerate progress

On 22 September we are joining forces with the IHI to host a special event called Leadership Matters. It will be a day of listening to colleagues as we learn from our What Matters to You programme and accelerate improvements together – to make a difference for staff and patients. It will also be an opportunity for participants to celebrate and learn about our new Leadership Behaviours – and be part of our shared implementation plan to embed these across our organisation. We will be thanking colleagues for their contributions throughout the day.

Thanks to colleagues across the trust, and with very generous support from Newcastle Hospitals Charity, we’ve also arranged thank you events on each Friday in September including:

People at our Heart Awards

Later today we are hosting our first People at our Heart Awards since before the pandemic.

The “People at our Heart Awards” is our staff and volunteer recognition scheme that enables patients, relatives, colleagues and the public, to express their gratitude and provide recognition for their outstanding efforts.

It’s a great opportunity for us to think about the achievements our colleagues and teams have made and recognise the difference they make. I am sure everyone will be delighted to get together and celebrate their achievements.

Great North 5k

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. This is a run available to everyone and an opportunity for us all to celebrate being part of the wonderful NHS. We have very limited spaces remaining to join our 2022 5K team.
Sign up here before 7 September to secure a last-minute place and help support Newcastle Hospitals Charity.

Fruity Friday – 16 September

We are offering all of our staff a free piece of fruit at the following points:

  • RVI and Freeman Hospitals: Next to the fruit stalls. Staff simply need to show their lanyard to claim a free portion of fruit. Look out for times and further details in the InBrief and my thanks to the Flourish health champions for their support.

Fruit baskets will be delivered to the following sites for staff to distribute:

  • Regent Point, Gosforth
  • Campus for Ageing and Vitality
  • Centre for Life
  • The Lumen
  • Geoffrey Rhodes Centre (for onward circulation to community teams)
  • Northern Centre for Cancer Care Carlisle and Whitehaven sites

Treat yourself (cakes and ice creams) – 23 September

After the huge success of the ice cream van visit during the heatwave over the summer, we wanted to invite them back one last time before the weather starts to cool down too much. Our ice cream vans will be located at the following places again on Friday 23 September, simply show your NHS badge to claim your free ice cream:

  • RVI: 10am – 5pm
  • Freeman: 10am – 5pm
  • Regent Point: 10am – 12pm
  • Campus for Aging and Vitality: 12.30pm – 2pm

For some of our teams who are unable to get to these sites – a selection of cupcakes and muffins will be available for colleagues in the community and at our sites in Cumbria.

Volunteers’ event

We will be celebrating the fantastic contribution our volunteers make across our Trust every day with a special event on 28 September. Here we will think about some of the work they do and also recognise the dedication of some of our longest serving volunteers.

Our staff networks

We’re also looking at ways of recognising the fantastic work of our staff networks and more details will be available shortly in the InBrief.

Celebrating Excellence Awards

Our Thank You Month will culminate with our ‘Celebrating Excellence’ Awards on 30 September, where we will bring all our shortlisted teams, individuals, charity supporters and volunteers together for a special gala evening. Congratulations to all our finalists!

Hopefully by working across the whole month of September everyone will be able to take part in some way, and if you feel like you’re missing out, there is always the opportunity for individual teams to arrange their own event. You can find out more about applying for funding from Newcastle Hospitals Charity here.

Other news

Butterfly project

Over the last ten years, consultant neonatologist Nick Embleton has been working closely with Professor Judith Ranking, professor for maternal and child health at Newcastle University, to conduct research and dissemination work with women suffering a baby loss.

While, understandably, many people find this extremely uncomfortable and distressing to talk about, it has a huge impact on women (and partners) – one in five women suffer a miscarriage, one in 200 a stillbirth and every year around 40 to 50 babies will die on Ward 35 at the RVI.

Nick also leads the Butterfly Project which attracts global interest for our work on the loss of a twin baby and last November launched a free, Royal college, accredited online training course that is a partnership between the trust, university and a parent-led charity which has already attracted more than 1,000 global learners from 85 countries.

More recently, he has collaborated with several advocacy groups and over the last few weeks has worked with charity Our Sam to produce a series of moving podcasts which you can find here. I know Nick is also discussing his work on BBC Radio Newcastle and I wanted to share it with you.

Visit to the finance team

Recently I spent the morning with our senior finance team and we discussed the important role that corporate services play in supporting frontline care, as well as some of the ways we need to work differently in the future. As always, thank you for giving me your time.

NHS Communicate Awards

I’m delighted to share that the trust, in partnership with North East and North Cumbria ICS, has been shortlisted in the NHS Communicate Awards for their valuable work as part of the North East and North Cumbria vaccination programme.

Our Change of Heart Covid vaccination campaign is also shortlisted in two categories – use of data / insight and behavioural change / public health – and I’d like to congratulate everyone involved and wish you luck in the finals.