Our most important priority

I was able to welcome our new cancer teams in Cumbria on the day that they joined Newcastle Hospitals

In the last two weeks I’ve had the pleasure of being able to safely and carefully begin to meet face-to-face with staff again.

I was able to visit both our new cancer teams in Cumbria on the day that they joined Newcastle Hospitals, and also the cancer team at the Freeman Hospital earlier this week.

It was wonderful to be able to see both sides of the Northern Centre for Cancer Care for myself once more. I was struck again by the passion of all of our staff, their dedication to the care and treatment of our patients and the mutual support between colleagues. (For those in Whitehaven I haven’t forgotten you and will come along to visit soon.)

I’ve also had a great ‘virtual’ discussion with our sexual health team, based at Newcroft House and in the community and again was inspired by the innovation, care and compassion that shone through our conversation.

I’ve also had a great ‘virtual’ discussion with our sexual health team, based at Newcroft House

Visiting teams and services and talking to staff and patients is one of the most important and valuable parts of my job. It’s here that I get a real feel for what’s going on.

I learn a lot from walking around and observing the environment – how tidy and cared for it is, how warm the welcome is, how many people smile and acknowledge you, or ask if you need help. In Newcastle Hospitals we excel at providing a warm welcome and making people feel safe and comfortable in our care and it’s a pleasure to see that wherever I go.

Above all else, I get to really listen to staff about what’s important to them and hear about what it’s really like to work here. I appreciate the honesty and openness that staff show me when they share some of the difficult experiences that they have had.

I’ve been particularly humbled by some of the conversations I’ve had with members of our staff network groups. You often tell me that this is a place you’re proud to work, but at the same time you remind me that there are always things that we can do better. It’s a job that is never finished, and it’s so important that we continue to make sure that we focus on making Newcastle Hospitals the best place to work.

In my last blog, I highlighted the recently published NHS Operating Guidance, which sets out how the NHS is being asked to move forward as we recover from the pandemic. I support each of the 6 priorities for the NHS, but the first, ‘Supporting the health and wellbeing of staff and taking action on recruitment and retention’ is crucial and has to be our top priority.

Last week I attended the national NHS People Board which I am a member of, along with Prerena Issar, NHS Chief People Officer and Dr Navina Evans, Chief Executive of Health Education England.

I was able to share some of what I’ve heard from our staff with Board members. I highlighted that there have been many highs and lows with some staff struggling with the extremes of their experiences and I shared some live examples of contributions that staff have made through the pandemic often at some significant personal cost. I also talked about the unique opportunity we all have to fundamentally change staff experience in the NHS for the better.

Here in Newcastle, we have been working hard over the last 3 years to make sure that staff feel valued. Our vision for our #FlourishAtNewcastleHospitals programme is that we want to support everyone to liberate their potential at work so that we can create the best NHS organisation we can.

We have made good progress with this, but we still have a lot to do so that we are clearer and more consistent about our expectations and ambitions.

Flourish is our approach to organisational development and each year we’ll support a series of large and small projects to embed this way of thinking. Some examples of this is the work we’ve done with staff to create and embed our values, creating bespoke leadership and development training, and taking practical steps to support wellbeing at work – such as creating new staff rooms and access to hot food.

We’ve also encouraged staff communities with a particular interest to take forward developments, such as through the sustainability and equality networks. Of course over the last 12 months we’ve particularly focussed on staff safety, welfare and psychological wellbeing as we have tackled the pandemic.

Flourish isn’t about what a small number of senior managers do in the organisation, quite the opposite. It’s about the experience that every member of staff has every day. It’s about how it feels to come to work in your team with your colleagues.

We all have a part to play in influencing our world of work. It’s about how we progress our careers, work at the top of our ability, understand the opportunity we have to effect change and find the ‘sweet spot’ where we know that we are making a difference. I believe that together we can create the culture here which supports all of that and more.

I want each member of staff to be confident about our commitment to ensure that Newcastle Hospitals is a great place to work and that every member of the team is empowered to be an active participant in developing our culture.

I was reminded this week by our staff at the Northern Centre for Cancer and in sexual health services, how quickly and effectively we were able to innovate during the early phases of the pandemic when we absolutely needed to. “If it hadn’t been for the pandemic we would still be talking about doing that, instead we got on and did it” is a sentiment that I’ve heard from many teams.

Our future success depends on our ability to respond with agility and creativity and to take advantage of opportunities wherever they present themselves and to do this without sacrificing long-term results or wearing out our workforce.

I understand the direct correlation between staff feeling engaged, valued and supported and tangible outcomes for patients through the delivery of high quality, safe health and social care and it is vital that we pay sharp attention to this at a time when staff are feeling the effects of living through this national crisis.

How can Flourish help us?

Throughout my 20 years as an NHS Chief Executive, I’ve used the #Flourish Framework successfully to focus on different elements in NHS organisations which could be strengthened. The Flourish framework is illustrated in this diagram which I’ve shared in my blog and at Flourish meetings several times before. The model is built around 3 connected domains, which work in parallel:

  • Leadership – developing the best you
  • Strategy and Governance (system 1) to align and deliver priorities working within formal structures and systems to enhance performance in a way which meaningfully engages with staff and enables all people to thrive.
  • Developing networks of activity (system 2) to create a cycle of continuous improvement to drive transformation and sustainable change aligning strategy and capability.

As an executive team, we’ve revisited this framework over the last few weeks and have been looking at how we can set actions in place which suit where we are now.

We need to challenge our approach and adapt after the last year of the pandemic and I’ve been thinking about questions such as:

  • How can we make sure that every single manager in the trust understands their role in relation to flourish?
    Are we sure that our policies and processes help us to do the right thing, without limiting our ability to innovate?
  • How can we make sure that our Governance frameworks get the balance right between keeping us safe and being fully compassionate in our responses?
  • Are we clear about how we articulate the behaviours we expect from each other, and how we will challenge people who don’t live up to our behavioural standards?

These are big, challenging questions and there are so many more as well. I don’t have all the answers, but together we can find them, and I know how many of you are passionate about getting behind the changes and big developments we need to see.

We are a large organisation with almost 17,000 colleagues, I’m keen to work with partners who can support our ambition and accelerate the pace of change. So, we’re looking forward to working with the International ‘Institute for Health Improvement’, to support us with both our quality improvement work and with the next steps in our organisational development.

This will make sure that we are in touch with the best experts from around the world. The IHI are equally keen to work with and learn from our expertise as well.

So what are we going to do?

Senior leaders are looking at the programme for 2021/2022. This will build on what we have already done. We’ll be inviting all of our leaders to a special Leadership Congress on 13 May where we will focus on the approach we hope to take. We will also publish our key plans and priorities for the #FlourishAtNewcastleHospitals programme over the next few weeks.

In the meantime we have had excellent feedback from over 7,000 staff through the national staff survey and directorate level results will be shared this week. These give a vital insight into our experiences across the trust and I’d encourage you to talk with your colleagues in your teams about the ideas you have, and the actions you can take locally to make sure that you and your teams can flourish.

I am always keen to hear your views about what will make a difference and always read the comments that people send in, and you can contact me by email at [email protected]

As we develop the programme further there will also be more formal opportunities to take part in focus groups, surveys and listening events so that you can influence the shape of this exciting and important programme of work.

‘Move More’

With the health and wellbeing agenda in mind, we’re hoping to get teams to sign up to our ‘Move More’ challenge, which is a fun way for staff to get active and challenge yourself and drum up a bit of competition with other colleagues. Look out for further details on the Intranet and InBrief very soon.

Other news

Our new acute cardiac care centre opened at the RVI

It was great to see our new acute cardiac care centre has opened at the RVI – a merger of two existing wards which supports a new model of care to enhance the patient experience. The new unit has three distinct treatment zones:

A new four-bay cardiac day unit which can monitor, assess and treat patients with heart conditions who may not necessarily need an overnight hospital stay
A brand new coronary care unit with six cubicles for patients who need high dependency care for emergency heart care and;
A 17-bedded ward for patients who need to stay in hospital for specialist care.

Many thanks to our clinical teams and colleagues in estates, procurement, portering and other support services who have done a fantastic job in getting this new facility up and running.


The National BAME Health & Care Awards (BAMEHCA), is a yearly event that recognises the hard work of BAME professionals in the UK’s health and care sectors, last night it revealed its first set of 2021 winners.

Congratulations to Odeth Richardson, who was the highly commended nominee in the Compassionate and Inclusive Leader – Network category.

Although the awards are now closed for nominations, I would like to wish the best of luck to staff who have been nominated in other categories, which will be announced in the coming weeks.

The Awards Ceremonies will be held over four virtual events ending on May 6 2021. You can find out more about the awards here.