Our push for elective recovery

I’m going to make no apology for continuing to focus on how we are delivering for our patients, in my regular updates. That has always been – and will continue to be – our key focus across our organisation and I know it is what motivates us all.

Everyone is contributing to the magnificent effort to support our patients as we approach winter and this is at the forefront of my mind every day.

Last week, Amanda Pritchard, Chief Executive of NHS England gave a speech in which she described the challenges the NHS faced before the pandemic in 2019 as even further exacerbated now because of our experiences over the last two years – and she is right.

Every day we are supporting increased numbers of patients, with higher levels of need, as well as doing all we can to tackle the backlog of patients who have been waiting far too long for their surgery and care.

I wanted to focus this week on the approach that we’re taking to maximise the capacity we can deliver for elective care this month by adding evening and weekend lists to our schedules.

The need for this is unquestionable.  We currently have 658 people waiting over 78 weeks for care and more people are joining our lists each week than we can treat.  We need to get ahead of the curve so that we can make a significant improvement in our waiting times.

It is true to say that our staff have gone through the most difficult period of their careers over the last few years and are undeniably tired. But many also tell me that they are still willing to undertake overtime and work flexibly if that means that they can support patients to access quicker care.

It makes me very proud to know the lengths that people are prepared to go to, to make a difference.

With this in mind, we have asked directorates to work together to develop bespoke plans to maximise activity and efficiency in outpatient clinics, the day treatment centre at the Freeman Hospital and theatres.

We have asked for a clear focus on this in November, so that we can make the biggest initial impact, but then continue with, and enhance these steps, as we enter 2023.

To support staff, you will have seen that we have also extended our enhanced overtime payment offer until the end of the financial year (31 March 2023) because it is important that we recognise and compensate staff for their hard work.

So far, we have had one weekend of this approach, with a whole range of specialties taking action.

The day treatment centre completed six lists during the first weekend – providing care for 32 patients in urology, plastics and dermatology.  General elective surgery also took place at the RVI and Freeman Hospital, including day case surgery for our young patients at the Great North Children’s Hospital, as well as important MRI scans under general anaesthetic.

Outpatient appointments also took place across a number of specialties including neurology, gynaecology, spinal, dermatology, ophthalmology and urology as well as paediatric orthopaedic and immunology clinics.

In ophthalmology, their weekend and evening working has enabled the team to clear their backlog of VR (vitreo-retinal) patients and they are now looking to hold a glaucoma day on 17 November to tackle their next challenge.

In our TIMS service (Tyneside Integrated MusculoSkeletal Services) additional clinics will support 150 more patients from the waiting list, which is a significant achievement.

Working in this way only happens by everyone playing their part and I’m very grateful to both clinical staff and the essential support teams who have made this possible. Our administration staff have had a particularly important role to play in liaising with patients to make sure that the extra capacity we create has the maximum impact.

I also wanted to highlight one team which has been under particular pressure recently, and which often gets overlooked – the sterile services team. Based at the RVI, Freeman and Dental Hospitals, this team of just over 100 members of staff play a vital role in keeping our hospitals running by decontaminating and sterilising all surgical equipment used in our theatres, wards and clinics – including those in the community.

With the opening of the day treatment centre and more advanced surgical procedures requiring more surgical instruments, their workload has already increased dramatically.

As we move through November the sterile services team continue to go above and beyond by working additional days and hours to ensure a quick turnaround to meet the continued increase in demand. I know this is a huge team effort, with everyone playing their part and our hospitals could not function without them.

It can be easy to take some of these vital links in the chain of patient care for granted, and it is important that we recognise and value the skill, expertise and hard work in these teams which helps us all to be successful.

We will evaluate and learn from our experiences over the next few weeks so that we can make the best plans for the future, including capturing staff and patient feedback.

I will share more information about the success of our collective efforts over coming weeks and I’ll also continue to update you on the other investments we’re making to support the organisation to tackle our current challenges.

On top of the £24million and around 200 staff we’ve invested in the day treatment centre, we’re also creating a new clinical decisions unit at the RVI to support our urgent care teams, a virtual ward to support respiratory patients and significant upgrades in our theatres.

We’ve also recently received planning permission for our new specialist hospital building and children’s heart centre and we are working hard to complete the business cases for those potential construction projects.  It is an incredibly busy time and I want to thank everyone for their hard work.

Supply Chain Issues

I wanted to highlight another area which impacts us all and which has probably become more complicated and acute now than it was during the pandemic – and that’s the supply chain.

Our procurement team have been working non-stop to source stock, liaising with suppliers, distributers, senior managers, senior clinicians and the inventory teams in the Trust to tackle the supply issues which are related to global distribution shortages and the impact of Brexit.

Recent disruption has included blood bottles, tracheostomy tubes, needles, syringes and often it is multiple disruptions running at the same time, which change on a weekly basis.

Patient safety and continuity of service is always top of the agenda for the team and they have successfully ensured products under constraint have remained in supply, or alternative products are secured, trialled and subsequently put into service.

Unfortunately, this situation is likely to continue well into 2023 and possibly beyond. I have no doubt that our colleagues will continue to manage this extremely difficult and complex situation and ensure our patients and clinical colleagues are shielded as much as possible from these worldwide problems. Thank you all.

Recent visits

It was great to spend time with some of our community teams this week – I’m so proud of the crucial work they do.

At Molineux Street in Byker, I saw how our Urgent Treatment Centre team are getting residents the care they need, avoiding A&E or primary care.

I also spent some time with the teams delivering our two-hour community response for patients at home, as well as the integrated rehabilitation and support we provide with Newcastle City Council. Responsive, integrated community services are key to the sustainability of our health and care system. A huge thank you to everyone for your time this week.

Staff survey

We are now entering the last two weeks of the 2022 NHS Staff Survey. To date, over 5,500 colleagues have completed theirs so don’t miss your opportunity to have your say in how we collectively continue to develop staff experience.

By telling us the issues that matter, you can make a real difference – for instance, feedback from staff has helped to focus our attentions and shape our new staff bistros, flexible working and Our Newcastle Way behaviours. To see the results from last year you can visit: 2021 NHS Staff Survey Results – Flourish at Newcastle Hospitals.

At directorate level, we continue to support leaders and managers in their What Matters to You conversations to develop local staff experience improvement plans in each area. The results from this year’s survey will be analysed at Trust and directorate level to help inform how our staff experience plans are going. If you would like to know more about your directorate level result from last year’s survey, please speak to your line manager.

In this video I explain a little further about why it’s important to share your views and why What Matters to You, Matters To Us. The survey closes on Friday 25 November and takes around 15 minutes to complete. It is also completely anonymous and all members of staff should have received a unique link sent to their Trust email account.

You can find out more about the Staff Survey here.

Newcastle Improvement Learning and Sharing Event

Our next Newcastle Improvement Learning and Sharing Event is on 17 November, where you can hear about how the Pelvic Health Physiotherapy Team is reducing the referral to treatment time. Email [email protected] for more information.  You can also get in touch with the team if you have an improvement you would like to share.

Craig Nesbitt, Consultant Vascular Surgeon, at the Freeman said the following about his experience of sharing his story: “The opportunity to present our project via the Trust’s learning & sharing event was a valuable experience. We were able to share what worked and what didn’t work with likeminded colleagues and gain valuable insights from others on their own QI endeavours. The QI journey can be a lonely road to travel; by sharing your story you’ll gain valuable support for your ongoing road trip!”

Let’s give this Christmas

Christmas is only a few weeks away and no doubt lots of people are already looking forward to celebrating and spending time with loved-ones. However, for some people Christmas is a tough time to get through, particularly this year in light of the current economic crisis.

In the past, we have been overwhelmed by the generosity of staff to provide support for others with donations, so we are hoping to do it all again this December. We are therefore encouraging teams to collect items for the Newcastle West End Foodbank, as well as the Newcastle Dog and Cat Shelter in Benton.

Both the Food Bank and the Shelter work incredibly hard throughout the year to make sure that people – and animals – in crisis get support, but Christmas is often their busiest time, and you can help make sure that they have the supplies they need to meet this increased need.

Collection day will be Friday 9 December and if you would like to offer your support, these are some of the items the teams are looking for:

Items for Food Banks

  • Festive food treats – for example puddings, cakes, chocolate, sweets.
  • Non-perishable foods – especially tinned fish, tinned fruit, cereal, rice (500g or less), curry sauce, pasta sauce.

Items for Cat and Dog Shelter

  • Cats – kitten food in jelly (Whiskas or Felix), cat beds, small blankets, knitted blankets, fleece blankets, scratching posts, cat toys.
  • Dogs – poop bags, hot dogs, dog treats, towels, blankets, dog toys, sheets, duvet covers.

Please ensure items are within use by/best before date and are boxed and clearly labelled Food Bank or Dog/Cat Shelter.

All items must be at dropped off on Friday 9 December as we have arranged collection with a courier.  Time slots will be allocated to each area, more details will be issued soon.

In the meantime, please start collecting in your local areas in preparation for drop-off on 9 December. You can use these posters to help promote the collection with your teams: Cat and Dog Shelter Collections, Food Bank Collections.

For colleagues in Cumbria, we will share details regarding how you can also take part soon.

Some other things to look out for over the Christmas period include:

A Gift of Festive Kindness

The more organised among you may be well on your way with your gift shopping! If you need some inspiration, Newcastle Hospitals Charity has launched three new gift cards, each supporting a different area of Newcastle Hospitals, so you can choose a cause that is close to your heart. They can be purchased from just £10. Find out more and purchase your cards here.

Save the Date: Illuminations

Once again, our hospitals will be lit with festive lights as we head into this special season, thanks to support from Newcastle Hospitals Charity. We’d encourage as many staff as possible (and patients where appropriate) to attend the switch-on events. They’re sure to be a lot of fun, with musical entertainment, special guests, and refreshments too.

  • RVI – outside New Vic Wing entrance: Wednesday 30 November, 4.15pm – 5.15pm.
  • Freeman – on the grass outside the main entrance: Thursday 1 December, 4.15pm – 5.15pm.
  • We will be announcing details regarding Cumbria soon.

Christmas Jumper and Socks Day

It’s the time of year when tradition dictates that we can don those Christmas jumpers or socks that you would have been too embarrassed to wear in public at any other time.

This year we would like to invite staff to wear their favourite Christmas jumper or socks on Thursday 8 December.

Perhaps your team or department want to add to the fun by competing for a best jumper or socks prize? You could even ask colleagues to make a donation to Newcastle Hospitals Charity too, find out more here. We would love to see your photos so please share them with us.

Christmas decorating principles

We have, of course, already shared some guidance around Christmas decorations which will help us to maintain our high standards of infection prevention and control – here is a reminder.


Don’t forget, you also have until 5pm on Monday (14 November) to apply to Newcastle Hospitals Charity for funding to help bring some cheer to the patients and staff of Newcastle Hospitals! This includes:

  • Seasonal gifts for patients staying in the hospital over the festive season (up to £10 per patient).
  • Decorations (for clinical and/or non-clinical areas – must be in line with Infection Control guidelines. Grants of up to £200).

Find out more and apply here.

The Great Newcastle Hospitals Bake Off – Overall Winner

I’m delighted to announce that our grand prize for our Great Newcastle Hospitals Bake Off goes to Katarzyna Witecka-Sadurska, Physiotherapy AP in Cardio Intensive Care at the Freeman. The winning cake consisted of raspberry mousse on classic sponge, covered in fresh fruits and finished with clear grape flavoured jelly on outside.

The judges were overwhelmed by entries for the bake off, so well done to everyone who took part. It was fantastic to see how talented our staff are at baking – but most of all, I enjoyed hearing about how teams came together to just chat and enjoy a slice of cake.

Remembrance Day

This morning at 11am, Newcastle Hospitals will pause to remember all who have died in the service of their country.

Acts of Remembrance will be held at the Chapels in the Freeman Hospital and RVI, as well as the Canteen at Regent Point, for all staff who would like to attend. Please could we ask that you arrive from 10.50am, in preparation of the 2-minute silence starting at 11am. A military bugler will attend the RVI Chapel and Regent Point for the Act of Remembrance.

For staff who are unable to attend in person, you can access the RVI service via this link.

A gentle reminder goes out to all staff across the Trust to respect those wishing to participate in this two-minute silence within our work areas, where possible.

Awards and Achievements

Good luck to all our finalists and colleagues across the region who will be attending the HSJ Awards next Thursday (17 November). We have been shortlisted in three categories as follows:

  • Covid vaccination programme award – North East and North Cumbria Covid vaccination programme
  • Race Equality Award – maximising Your Potential – Leadership Development Programme (in partnership with Arden and Gem Commissioning Support Unit)
  • Towards Net Zero Award – Sustainable Healthcare in Newcastle (Shine)

And last but certainly not least….

Our staff welfare hound Poppy Jingles is putting her paws up and retiring after 5 years of dedicated service to Newcastle Hospitals. I know she has brought so much joy to staff through her ‘pat and chat’ and ‘mooch with the pooch’ sessions and will be a huge miss, although I’m know her owner, our head of chaplaincy Katie Watson, will ensure she doesn’t miss out on the treats she’s become accustomed to on her travels.