Reasons to be hopeful

I’ve been a chief executive for 20 years now in a range of different organisations – some large, some small, some very challenged, others good or outstanding. Regardless of the organisation or the context, what keeps me awake at night is how we can improve the quality of care we’re able to provide and maintain the safety of our patients.

Over the last few weeks I know that all of our leaders in the trust have worried about how our current pressures are challenging our teams, the impact of this on our patients and the huge weight of responsibility this is placing on every member of staff.

In Newcastle we have a high bar for the quality of care we want to provide. That is a huge credit to everyone working here and it makes the times when we need to make compromises even harder.

On Tuesday morning this week I visited the Emergency Department and Assessment Suite after what had been an incredibly difficult night with many patients needing to wait longer than they should and enormous demands being placed on staff.

I heard directly from several members of the nursing and medical team about the relentless growth of demand at our front door, the increasingly complex needs that our patients present with and the anxiety they feel about the coming winter. It’s also important to say that I heard lots of reasons to be hopeful. Staff told me that they enjoyed working in the team, that they had good staff retention, that new members of the team would be joining them soon, that trainees reported good teaching and development opportunities and that they felt proud of coping so well with the huge numbers of covid and non-covid patients they had cared for throughout the pandemic.

It’s clear that the demands on our emergency pathways are persistent and multifactorial, and they follow a similar pattern to the one seen across the region and in the wider NHS. It’s also clear that the solutions we have tried in the past are not sufficient for the challenges that we face.

I was also able to discuss directly with staff what they thought could help – really practical and achievable suggestions like speeding up discharges to other localities, focussing on staff wellbeing and morale and making the time to develop longer term strategies. That balance of short and longer term thinking – with a sharp focus on staff experience and patient outcomes – is what will ensure our team in Newcastle maintain the place they so richly deserve as one of the most respected and effective urgent care teams in the NHS. I can assure you that the executive team will be working to support the directorate over the next weeks and months.

Last week, Amanda Pritchard was announced as the new NHS Chief Executive, replacing Sir Simon Stevens who has led us since 2014. Amanda is well known to us in Newcastle and has visited us a number of times in the recent past – speaking at a leadership congress and visiting the Nightingale hospital during the pandemic, and I personally know her well.

In her first message to the NHS since being appointed, Amanda reflected on the need to focus both on our short term pressures, but also on the long-term improvements in treatment, care and prevention that will ultimately lead people to live longer and more healthy lives. I know that everyone in the trust and the NHS is faced with that challenge but addressing it will require us to think in a fundamentally different way. We will need to use all of the creativity and agility that we demonstrated so successfully in our challenge with covid to help us think forwards and imagine the future.

On Friday last week, we welcomed Dr Tim Ferris to Newcastle. Tim is the newly appointed Director of Transformation at NHS England, and is responsible for ensuring the NHS rises to the transformation challenge. His portfolio also includes leading NHSX and NHS Digital and the life sciences agenda. By background, he is a Professor of Medicine at Harvard University and a medical doctor with a particular interest in improving population health.

On what was Tim’s first visit to a NHS Hospital, we were able to talk to him about our hopes and ambitions for the future as well as the approach we are taking towards our elective care backlogs in different areas of the trust.

We were able to talk to Tim about our aspirations to improve the health, wealth and wellbeing of our local population by designing services around their needs, and by targeting people who have traditionally experienced health inequalities and disadvantages. Our conversations reinforced for me that we can’t accept the differences in healthy life expectancy that have, for so long, been the reality of life in some of our communities. We have to do better for them.

Tim was genuinely inspired by the expertise of the clinical staff he met, the projects he heard about, and the collaborations we have in place across primary care, our council, the Trust and the universities through Collaborative Newcastle. He was especially pleased to see the laser-like focus we have on improving the quality of life of our patients and commented that he saw hope and optimism in our approach. I’m sure everyone would wish both Amanda and Tim well in their new roles.

At the moment, we are all in the midst of managing our operational pressures and that is where our minds need to be. But shortly we will need to move our thoughts to a productive psychological state where we can think ahead. It’s becoming clearer every day that working harder and faster will not be enough to succeed against the challenges we face in this post pandemic period.

We will need to build a health system that is underpinned by research and scientific discovery, data and deep knowledge, and which measures its success against the improving health of the whole population and the wellbeing of all staff.

That is a significant transformation from where we are now, but I know that we are in great position to take that journey, and I have every reason to be hopeful.

A note about catering at the RVI

I understand the frustrations that people feel about the poor facilities for staff at the RVI. This is something which is a legacy of our PFI contract which severely limits where, when and how we can provide additional catering and associated restaurant facilities for staff. I can assure you that we are investigating every option to improve this situation.

We have recently created a new staff rest area at leazes wing (old medical records) as well as outdoor seating at the bistro, and a ‘breathing spaces’ marquee in the large open courtyard adjacent to Medical Physics, level 2 Leazes Wing, which will be opening soon. The chapel at the RVI is also reopening as a space for staff. Following a successful pilot, the ‘Food to go’ click and collect app will be rolled out to all staff in a phased way during August and September.

However we know this is not enough and the executive team are actively trying to create more facilities. Please bear with us, and please also share with us any practical ideas for improvements.

Cumbria Cancer Centre

I’m delighted that the Northern Centre for Cancer Care, North Cumbria is now open. Earlier this week we welcomed the first of our radiotherapy patients and from next week the chemotherapy service will also move into the building. I know all of the teams involved in the development of the centre have worked extremely hard to make it a safe, comfortable and welcoming place for our patients to receive treatment.

Welcome to our new doctors and pharmacists

The beginning of August sees many changes for our doctors and pharmacists in training and this week many of them have rotated into new jobs. I want to give a very warm welcome to everyone who is joining us for the first time, and wish you all good look in your new teams.

Thank you gift from Baltic

Newcastle Hospitals Charity, in partnership with BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, has produced free limited-edition prints for Trust staff, as a thank you.

Three different prints have been created by local artists Richard Bliss, Lady Kitt and Padma Rao. If you’re looking for something to brighten up your walls at home, you can pick up your free print at BALTIC Shop. Just show your NHS staff card, and you can take one home with you.

They will be given on a first-come, first-served basis and it will be a lucky draw to see which one you get until stocks last! You can find out more about the prints here.

Awards and recognition

  • This month Professor Annette Hand became the first Clinical Academic Professor in Nursing across the North East and North Cumbria – one of the first roles of its type in the UK. The post, which is joint position between our Trust and Northumbria University, will drive a collaborative nursing, midwifery and Allied Health Professional agenda in research, education and clinical practice.
  • Our work with collaborative Newcastle has been shortlisted in the Chartered Institute of Public Relations North East awards.
  • Congratulations to our IPC Team who have been shortlisted to receive the Infection Prevention Society Team of the Year Award 2021.