Our Olympic spirit

Out of focus picture of nurse tending to patient in bedAfter a year’s delay due to the coronavirus, the 32nd Olympiad will get underway today at 12 noon (UK time) as the athletes take part in the opening ceremony. As a dedicated sports fan I’m looking forward to seeing the elite sporting achievements which will take place throughout the Olympic and Paralympic Games – I’m hoping that the games will provide some light moments to bring the country together and raise our spirits.

Of course this year’s games are taking place in unprecedented circumstances. The organisers have needed to work at speed to make significant and ongoing changes to their plans and processes to manage the fluid situation – just as we have had to in the Trust, and across every area of our lives.

Earlier this week the Olympics President highlighted the importance of the games in bringing hope and he revised the Olympic motto ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’ by adding an additional word – ‘Together’.

That thought has resonated with me this week as we have continued to face the exceptional pressures across our services. All of us are acutely aware of the severe demands that are affecting every part of the Trust. We are going through the ‘perfect storm’ of high numbers of covid patients in hospital, high covid infections in the community which is affecting staff and our families, unprecedented levels of urgent and emergency demand and peak holiday season, all of which comes after 18 months of exhausting work.

Dame Jackie Daniel with staff on one of our older peoples medical wards at the Freeman hospital
On one of my visits to our older peoples medical wards at the Freeman hospital yesterday

You are telling me how relentless it feels and I know that we are not currently able to offer all of our patients the exceptionally high level of care that we aspire to. It’s a place that none of us want to be. Several people have said to me that it feels more difficult now than it did at the height of the first wave of the pandemic.

What I’ve seen this week on the wards I’ve been to, is that people are pulling together. They are caring for each other, watching out for each other and they have each other’s backs. On my visits to our older peoples medical wards at the Freeman hospital yesterday I saw the most amazing resilience and optimism from everyone I met and we were able to talk honestly about how people are feeling.

Although the next few weeks will continue to be hard, we will get through this together. It’s important to say that as an executive team and Board we are focussed on doing everything we can to help and you have our complete support. We appreciate that the situation we find ourselves in is exceptional and we understand that the best efforts we can give as a team are just sometimes not enough to meet all of the demands placed upon us at the moment.

Staff member in mask and visor looking into the distance

As I write, we have around 80 patients with covid in our hospitals and I wanted to highlight some of the urgent actions we’ve taken to manage the current pressures.

We’ve continued to postpone planned non urgent surgery. While none of us want to make patients wait any longer than necessary, we do need to be able to care for the patients currently in hospital and those coming in as emergencies as our first priority.

We have authorised enhanced overtime rates for those who can provide patient facing care and we’ve redeployed staff from corporate areas to support wards.

We ARE NOT currently in the position of asking people to cancel leave and this is something we want to avoid, especially knowing that everyone is so fatigued from such a long period of hard work. However, there are some areas where managers may be asking staff whether there is any flexibility in when they take leave and providing the option to rebook leave for later in the year. Any changes like this would be entirely voluntary.

Marquee outside royal Victoria infirmary
Marquee at large open courtyard adjacent to Medical Physics, level 2 Leazes Wing at the RVI

We have also agreed to enable overtime shifts to be worked, at the enhanced rate, during your annual leave.

We know that having a place to get away from wards and departments is really important, and you will see a number of ‘breathing spaces’ opening shortly. With support from Newcastle Hospitals Charity, the estates team have arranged for two marquees to be put up for staff.

These are in the large open courtyard adjacent to Medical Physics, level 2 Leazes Wing at the RVI and next to Scott House at the Freeman Hospital.

With the finishing touches being added this week it is anticipated that both marquees will be ready for use before the end of July.

A breathing space area will also open in St Luke’s Chapel at the RVI in the middle of next week with comfortable seating. The chapel will be open 24/7 for staff and, of course, you can continue to use the chapel at the Freeman.

We also have staff facilities at the Leazes wing, near Costa Coffee. Previously door access was a one-way system but following discussions with Infection Prevention Control this has now been changed to provide open access for staff.

We are in regular contact with staff side representatives, chaplains and managers to hear about any other steps we can take to support staff. Where things aren’t possible, we will always do our best to explain why. If there is more that we can do, or things that we have missed, please let me know.

In discussions at the regional people board (which I chair) and the national people board, and with other senior leaders across the NHS and wider system, I am taking every opportunity to highlight the pressures that we are facing and the impact for our patients.

You will also have seen that we are making a firm commitment to maintaining mask wearing and other safety measures across our services, so that we can keep staff and patients safe, as we have done throughout the pandemic.

Finally, I would like to remind staff that they can access health and wellbeing resources here.

Our Olympians and Paralympians will undertake amazing feats of strength, speed and perseverance over the next few weeks. We will be inspired by them and hopefully they will bring home plenty of medals. But as we continue through these difficult weeks, my inspiration comes from what I see everyday in our hospitals and across our community. I see people who set their goals high and don’t stop until they achieve them, who run towards challenges everyday and who never give up.

That’s the Olympic spirit that really matters. Thank you for everything you are contributing. Please take care.

New nurses pictured near the monument in Newcastle city centre

Welcome to our new nurses

I’d like to welcome our new cohort of 26 nurses who have joined us from Kerela, India. They arrived in Newcastle in the last fortnight having travelled from India and spent their time in quarantine in London.

They will be supported with a comprehensive induction and have also been able to get to know their new city. Thank you
to everyone who is supporting them as they as they settle in and begin their clinical placements.



SHINE Annual ReportFront cover of the SHINE report with patient and staff member touching elbows wearing masks

Delighted to share our Sustainable Healthcare in Newcastle (SHINE) report for 2020/21 which captures what we’ve done over the last year to become a Greener NHS and outlines our overall performance including our carbon footprint.

As well as our actions and achievements in our eight key action areas:

  • Energy
  • Water
  • Waste
  • Buildings & Land
  • Journeys
  • Purchasing
  • Adaptation
  • Models of Care
  • People

You can find the report here.

Education and Workforce Development Annual Report

I’m also pleased to be able to share the Education and Workforce Development annual report for 2020/21. As a Trust we aim to ensure that all of staff have the opportunity to be developed through their careers and despite the pandemic our Education and Workforce Development team have continued to support staff to be able to do this. The report highlights the wide range of work that has taken place over the past year.

You can read the report here and if you’d like to find out more you can contact the team on
[email protected]

Week of rainbowsA week of rainbows graphic

As we approach Northern Pride we have been celebrating the LGBT+ community and raising awareness of issues affecting LGBT+ staff and patients.

Some of you will have joined the various sessions that have taken place this week under the banner of ‘A week of Rainbows’, 11 sessions have taken place. Newcastle Hospitals have led the week of activities working with other Trusts in the region to deliver a National programme of virtual events, with NHS staff around the country participating.

The talks this week also included a presentation by Alex Matheson about the phase two pilot of the rainbow badges, which we are delighted to be one of just ten NHS Trusts to be selected to take part.

Over 5000 staff have taken the pledge from the first phase of the project, it would be fantastic to build on this within the Trust. Please show your support by completing the staff survey which forms part of the assessment process.

There is also a patient survey for patients to access the survey, please make sure patients are aware and have the opportunity to contribute.

Innovation lab six-month anniversary

Staff from the innovation lab in masks and white coats
Staff from Newcastle’s innovation lab

Newcastle’s innovation lab speeds up new approaches to Covid testing

During the last six months, the innovation labs, as a specialist NHS laboratory hosted by Newcastle Hospitals, has linked with over 50 private sector partners in the UK and abroad, to develop new ways of testing for Covid-19.

The lab is run by a small team of scientists who are working in partnership with small, medium and large companies to evaluate the accuracy and effectiveness of innovative approaches. Linking with our regional NHS Lighthouse lab, the team has built a significant ‘biobank’ of Covid samples, essential to check the validity of new testing methods and technology.

The overall aim of the lab, which is part of the NHS Integrated Covid Hub North East, is to make new Covid diagnostics a reality as quickly as possible, as well as increase our resilience for fighting any future viruses. Hopefully in future this cutting-edge technology will make its way into mainstream testing laboratories around the world.

Awards and achievements

Congratulations to Karen Gurney, senior therapeutic radiographer in radiotherapy at the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle has been awarded a prize for Innovation and Improvement in Prostate Cancer Care as part of her work towards her MSc in Prostate Cancer Care.

Congratulations Karen it is great to see you awarded this huge achievement!