The opportunity for improvement

It seems a world away since we published our five-year strategy in September 2019. Since then we have, of course, experienced significant disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As an NHS CEO I regularly review and reflect upon where we sit against our strategy and our plans, so that, together with the Board, we can steer the most effective course.

When we reviewed our position recently, I was surprised at just how much alignment continued with our strategic framework. Our 5P’s – Patients, People, Partnerships, Pioneers, Performance – continue to be our very clear priorities.

However, it’s clear we now need to take urgent action in a number of areas or ‘pivot points’ to make sure that we fully learn from – and respond to – the fundamental changes that COVID-19 has created. These are important points of emphasis which will mean that we can gain the most from our recovery and reset.

There are a number of areas which I and the Executive Team will be emphasising over the coming months which will help us to ensure that we continue to progress towards our most important objective – to provide high quality, safe services for our patients. They include:

Building on our #Flourish programme – I recognise staff have been through such a lot over the last six months or so. As we restart and rebuild services, we need to support and nurture each other. Personal recovery will take time, and I want us to be bold and ambitious about how we build up our staff, and how we also continue to break down the inequalities that staff from different backgrounds experience.

Restart, reset and recovery – building services back safely and better than before. This is a huge piece of work where we effectively have the opportunity to rebuild the NHS from the bottom up and I’m grateful to the many clinicians who are contributing to this important and complex work.

Research, Innovation and Enterprise – this was of course a key area of focus before COVID-19. Its relevance at this time is even sharper. During the pandemic we heard we had been awarded Academic Health Science Centre (AHCS) status – this will allow the development of Newcastle Health Innovation Partners to build on the great work across our collaboration with Newcastle University, Newcastle City Council, our academic health science centre and our mental health trust Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust. The commercial enterprise team have been recruited and bring capability and experience to develop commercial partnerships which gives us the ability to drive investment in order to reinvest in our services.

Newcastle Improvement Facultyyou will hear much more about this exciting development in coming weeks. I know that Quality Improvement has never been more important and we will shortly be launching a partnership with the internationally renowned Institute of Healthcare Improvement to grow our expertise and capability in order to remain at the cutting-edge of exceptional quality and patient care.

SustainabilityThe pandemic has made many of us reflect on the relationship we have with the world around us. Clearer skies and less traffic are very tangible reminders of the impact that our previous lifestyles were having on our world. It’s a year since we declared a climate emergency and our SHINE approach will be reinvigorated so that we can all contribute to a greener NHS.

Collaboration and Partnershipsduring the pandemic our city partnerships have grown stronger. In particular ‘Collaborative Newcastle’ has really thrived. Our partnership working between the Trust and Newcastle City Council has had a positive impact in supporting the social care sector, and some of our most vulnerable residents in the city. Our relationships with mental health provider Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, primary care networks and our commissioners has accelerated. This partnership will be instrumental in tackling the health inequalities which have signifcantly worsened in the North East by COVID-19.

These themes will be highlighted in future blogs, but today I would like to highlight the importance of another factor – Digital Transformation.

Last year Newcastle Hospitals leapt into the digital age by becoming ‘Paperlite’ through a fundamental transformation project, probably one of the most significant cultural changes that we’ve ever experienced. It was a task that we embarked upon for now, but also for future generations.

There’s no doubt in my mind that being fully digitally enabled has been essential to support the magnifcent effort that I’ve seen throughout the pandemic.

None of us could have foreseen how much we would come to rely on a virtual world in such a short time, particularly in the health service, but if we’d been able to gaze into the crystal ball and had chance to prepare, I suspect that our paperlite programme was exactly what we would have prioritised to support the clinical care within our hospitals, in our communities and to support the wider region.

It’s remarkable that so many areas of our operations capitalised on our digital approach – whether that was the enhanced wi-f and 50 smart devices that kept families in touch with their loved ones, or the 131 different services that provided remote specialist outpatient consultations by phone and video.

Our Nightingale Hospital was equipped to be the only one in the UK to be fully digital. It was designed from the outset as an extension to our existing clinical record and utilised our electronic patient record systems.

This, together with remote patient status tracking and digital observations, significantly reduced the risks to potential patients and enabled information sharing between clinicians via the Great North Care Record.

Our digital capability enabled other innovations too. Our digitised covid antibody testing was swiftly mobilised to ensure 800 staff were able to access a test in the first 24 hours of the service being available, and almost 12,000 tests were carried out.

And for all of us, video conferencing – whether that’s with patients, colleagues or at home – has become an important tool. While StarLeaf has long been a feature of everyday life in the Trust, the response to covid has seen usage increase dramatically from 2,000 to 75,000 minutes per day and over 200,000 instant messages being sent. It’s clear that despite the difficulties, we were able to keep on communicating.

This work, and the preparation that underpins it, has put us in a very positive position. As we rebuild and reset services, we will continue to rely on digital solutions to support patients, keep in touch with them digitally and provide them increasingly with personalised tools and information to help them remain healthy.

Our central role in developing the Great North Care Record supports the whole region to communicate better and maximise patient engagement and research for patient benefit. Most importantly it puts patients firmly at the heart of their healthcare for the future, and that’s a great achievement.

Welcome back to some of our shielded staff

Over the next days and weeks staff who have been required to shield at home will be returning to the workplace. I know that teams have embraced the new ways of working and there have been many creative and digital solutions which have helped people work from home, keep in touch and make a valuable contribution.

I’ve heard from some staff who have been shielding, that they are anxious about leaving their homes and returning to the workplace. I can’t imagine what it’s been like to have been at home for so long, and I would like to warmly welcome you back.

I know that not everyone is able to return just yet, and I’d encourage anyone with concerns or worries about their own situation to speak to their line managers as soon as you can. Our staff disability network is there for any staff member who would like support.

It is a wonderful platform for colleagues with a disability or an underlying health condition to learn from each other and support one another post shielding.

The network can be contacted by emailing nuth.disabilitystaff[email protected].