Our journey to re-set, re-start and recover

The last fortnight has seen a significant change in the UK’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic following from the Prime Ministers announcement on Sunday 3 May and publication of ‘Our Plan to Rebuild: the governments COVID-19 recovery strategy.

The steps set out for a return to life to ‘as near normal as we can’ have been debated widely.

Each of us will be able to consider and understand the implications of this guidance for ourselves, and I really appreciate the concerns and anxieties that everyone will be experiencing. Any change of this type will cause uncertainty.

Very practical issues like caring for our children, travelling to work and keeping in touch with our families will be at the forefront of everyone’s minds. I know that everyone will take their responsibilities to public safety very seriously as we all play our part to minimise the spread of the virus.

As an organisation, we have been accelerating our work to restart and reset every area of the Trust. The coronavirus and the need to ‘socially distance’ is with us for the foreseeable future and so we need to change our operating procedures to accommodate that. We need to capture and embrace the fantastic innovation that we have generated under pressure, to embed those ways of working into our new approaches.

NHS England has asked the NHS to work towards resuming routine care as quickly as we can where it is safe to do so. As ever, safety is at the forefront of our minds. The availability of PPE, testing and robust infection control guidance and risk assessment will continue to be absolutely crucial to enabling safe resumption of services.

This has been the case throughout the pandemic and will continue to be an absolute priority for myself and the executive team. I am very grateful to all of the many people and teams who have worked tirelessly to make sure that we are in the best possible position. Our PPE and infection prevention and control teams have done an outstanding job, and many others across the trust have helped to keep everyone safe. These have been exceptional circumstances and it has taken an extraordinary effort to respond so well.

Last week, I wrote directly to all of our BAME staff to set out the actions we are taking to support them to stay safe through individualised risk assessment processes. This followed my recent teleconference with the BAME network where I was able to listen to their concerns first hand.

We have also implemented similar risk assessment arrangements for members of staff who are pregnant and those who have long-term conditions or illnesses, and we’re contacting staff who are working at home and who are in ‘shielded’ categories to keep in touch.

There is nothing more important to me than our people and the pandemic has brought this into an even sharper focus.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact that COVID-19 has had on different teams, so I’m meeting with small groups (socially distanced or virtually) so that I can hear directly about what more we can do to help, learn and respond, and I’m also grateful to those who have taken the time to contact me directly with your thoughts.

Last week, I met with members of the maternity team – midwives, support workers and an obstetrician – to hear their honest experiences, and I thought you might be interested to hear their story.

Maternity is an area that obviously couldn’t stop because of covid but many changes had to be made quickly. Some of them were difficult for both staff and families, especially limiting the number of visitors to new mums and people accompanying those having scans.

This meant that it’s been quieter in our units with less people around and the team have seen some positive impacts of this calmer environment – including mums getting more rest and babies feeding better. Pre-term births also seem to have reduced and the team is looking at ways to understand this through research. It’s clear that our pregnant population have taken isolation
very seriously.

The team told me that they have been pleased to have a sense of normality that being at work has brought them, and have felt very much part of a team. They appreciated the kindness and recognition shown to them by the public as well as that the lunches and other treats that were provided. They have embraced digital technology and telemedicine in a way that wasn’t possible before and have been able to find creative ways to provide compassionate care. They were looking at ways to continue to enable creativity and autonomy as they built back our services.

I’m grateful for the feedback they gave me about the anxiety caused by PPE and the changing guidance, particularly at the start of the pandemic. We needed to be able to explain the changing situation very clearly to staff so I’m pleased that they found the daily staff updates and chief executive messages useful and reassuring.

I heard about some exceptional sacrifices staff have made including living away from their children and families for many weeks so that they can still come to work. It struck me that people have risen to the top of their game with the new challenges and we need to capture and celebrate the little pockets of brilliance that have emerged throughout this time.

I’m grateful and humbled by everything that this team has achieved and I’m looking forward to meeting other teams and having more helpful conversations like this over the next few weeks.

COVID-19 vaccine study – Patient-facing staff needed

Newcastle Hospitals are recruiting now for a COVID-19 vaccine study. This study aims to find a safe vaccine that can be used to create immune responses against the virus and prevent the disease.

We are looking for healthy volunteers over 18 years old, working in patient-facing roles, who will attend 6 visits over 12 months, are keen for people to sign up as soon as possible.

For more information, please visit: www.covid19vaccinetrial.co.uk

If you want to talk to one of the Newcastle team about the study ring 0191 282 9267.

Art Competition

If you are in Peacock Hall, Regent Point, NCCC atrium or near to the Freeman shop, please try to take a moment to look at the incredible art work display. We had an overwhelming response to our art competition and we have displayed all our entries.

Hours of work have clearly been dedicated to producing these masterpieces and I’ve had some lovely feedback from staff who have been very moved by the images and the messages of thanks and hope.

Thank you to all of the young people who took part. I hope they enjoyed creating them as much as we have enjoyed looking at them.

We’re looking at ways to display some of these pictures so that as many people as possible can see them.

International Day of the Nurse

As you’re aware the World Health Organisation has dedicated this year as ‘Year of the Nurse and Midwife’ and while we have had to postpone many of our plans due to the pandemic, we did mark International Nurses Day on 12 May to celebrate the fantastic work you do with a special video from Executive Chief Nurse Maurya Cushlow which was very well received, Her Majesty The Queen also spoke over the phone with Professor Kath McCourt, who is President of the Commonwealth Nurses and Midwives Federation and Fellow of the Royal College of Nursing, of which The Queen is Patron.

The phone call featured at the beginning of a video in which the Royal family thanked the world’s nurses and also made BBC’s six o’clock news!

Equality and Diversity and Human Rights Week

Last week (11-15 May) was Equality and Diversity and Human Rights Week. Sadly we had to rearrange many events due to the pandemic but throughout the week we shared staff stories and also shared the journey we have been on so far – with a small sample of work we have done over the years – to ensure ‘we are inclusive’

Eid Mubarak

The month of Ramadan began on the evening of Thursday 23 April and end on the evening of Saturday 23 May. Many of our colleagues have celebrated by fasting from sunrise to sunset over the past month. This year has undoubtedly be very different for our Muslim colleagues as traditionally communal activities and prayer are observed and encouraged.

This year colleagues have faced additional challenges with the observance of Ramadan. The month of Ramadan ends with ‘Eid ul-Fitr “Festival of Breaking the Fast”, a religious holiday which is typically a time for Muslim families to share their good fortune with others, together.

This won’t be possible year which will be difficult. I am really please to share with you a short video produced by Newcastle City Council that features a number of our colleagues, thanking and encouraging our Muslim community for continuing to practice government guidelines. You can watch it here.

Awards and Achievements

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, our staff and teams continue to be recognised at both local and national level for the important work they do to enhance patient care and support our services, as well as our staff, across the organisation:

  • Our team of infant feeding support midwives at the RVI were named winners of the Royal College of Midwives ‘Partnership Working Award’ at a virtual ceremony this month. Led by senior midwife and infant feeding coordinator, Lynne McDonald, they received the accolade after impressing judges with their teamwork approach towards developing dedicated breastfeeding clinics.
  • The Trust was awarded ‘2019 Top Centre Status’ for participating in an international thrombolysis register for the longest period and providing high quality date entry. We received the accolade from the Karoliska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, which was the co-ordinating centre.

Finally, the week is Mental Health Awareness Week with a particular focus on kindness. We shouldn’t need a pandemic to remind us to look after our mental health but if any staff are struggling we have plenty of advice and support available within Newcastle Hospitals. You can find out more on the wellbeing pages of our coronavirus site.