The promise of spring
As we begin April and finally start to see signs of spring, we also reach the end of another NHS financial year. It’s good to take the opportunity to look back over how the year has gone. I’m conscious that over the last few years I’ve found myself describing our experiences of ‘exceptional’ and ‘unprecedented’ challenges many times. I can certainly use that same description about the last 12 months.
On top of the demand and pressures that I have talked about so often, and which we continue to see, we’re also facing the impact of industrial action as the dispute between the Government and the BMA continues.
At the weekend, I joined the Shelford Group Chief Executives in calling for the government and trade unions to do everything in their power to seek the common ground that will enable suspension of this strike action and allow negotiations to resume.
I continue to be grateful and humbled by the lengths that everyone is going to, to support our patients. I particularly want to thank all those who are supporting our operational arrangements to get us through the next week safely.
In this blog, I want to reflect on the incredible things we have achieved in that last 12 months – because it’s so important that we remember the positives and the challenges we have overcome together.
Through hard work together, and dedication, we have seen a 75% reduction in the number of patients waiting over 78 weeks for treatment, and reduced the number of people who have waited for over 104 weeks to 21.
Crucially, we have also seen a 33% reduction in patients waiting more than 62 days for cancer treatment. I also wanted to share some of our activity headlines from the last year.
We opened our new Day Treatment Centre, recruiting around 200 staff and have already delivered more than 2,600 procedures, making us one of the biggest providers of day surgery in the NHS. We’ve invested in new equipment, like our new endoscopy room at the RVI and developed new ways of working, such as our new surgical assessment unit – both of which have made a massive impact on patient flow and treatment pathways.
We’ve focussed on our staff – keeping people safe by providing the highest number of both flu and covid vaccination of any of the larger NHS organisations; opening our new 24-hour staff restaurant at the RVI; and by working with our dedicated chaplaincy team, catering team and Newcastle Hospitals Charity, we’ve provided ‘too good to throw fridges’ and meal cards through the ‘Helping Hands’ scheme and delivered practical support to staff through direct and confidential access to Citizens Advice to help manage the cost of living crisis.
It’s remarkable and a huge credit to every member of the team that we have managed to keep innovating, learning and creating new knowledge through development, research and innovation.
This year alone we have introduced new gene treatments for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, trialled new stroke treatments using stem cell therapy and pioneered new methods of assessing organ quality using AI. The future of healthcare is being developed here in Newcastle by our dedicated experts.
Later this year, the NHS will celebrate its 75th birthday which is particularly poignant given the difficulties we have lived through in recent years, and as we move forward, it’s important to remember that we have a lot to be proud of.
You can be assured that the senior team – both directors and our senior clinical leaders – continue to exert whatever influence we have locally and nationally to improve the situation for the organisation and the wider NHS. In my next blog I will look ahead to what we can anticipate in the next year, so that we can plan and prepare together.
My regular programme of visits has continued over the last fortnight, and I’ve been delighted to spend time learning about the dental labs and separately visiting ophthalmology.
On my visit to our dental labs, I was fascinated to see the skill and artistry of the team in the prosthodontic and conservation labs. I’m sure that few of us think about the craftsmanship and technical ability that goes into creating dental appliances like complex braces and dentures, or about the life-changing impact that this work can have. Well-designed and fitting appliances can help people to eat well, and speak more clearly, as well as making a significant difference to someone’s appearance and their confidence in everyday life.
As we are a major specialist dental hospital, this team works to support the most complex patients who need a range of individual dental support and they also work closely with our trauma, maxillofacial, plastic surgery and cancer teams to help people who need complex maxillo facial prosthetics.
I was able to see some of the personalised noses, eyes and ears that have been created for patients by the highly skilled technicians – each with matching skin tone and shading.
I was absolutely fascinated to see the time, attention to detail and care that goes into each piece. Teeth are shaped and shaded to match the patient’s own for example – a particular challenge when they may have been coloured and stained by cancer treatment. The fit is perfected for each patient, and I could see vital adjustments being made for one person as I visited the lab. The team told me about the huge pride they feel in seeing the difference that their work can make to patients who have often been through so much.
We talked about the importance of this handcrafted skill, alongside the benefits that can come from technology and 3D printing for simpler and more standard work. I also heard about the real workforce challenges facing the profession and an innovative apprenticeship route which has been developed.
I am very grateful to dental laboratory manager, Mark Pickersgill, for inviting me to see this largely unseen but very important part of our hospital.
On Tuesday (4 August) Matron Louise Crowe introduced me to her ophthalmology teams on ward 20, the day treatment ward and imaging hub (ward 21) and the eye outpatient clinic.
Louise joined us in Newcastle last June, having previously worked extensively in Belfast, and it was a joy to hear how warmly she has been welcomed in the North East. Her enthusiasm and that of her team was apparent in each area we visited.
On ward 20, we talked about the particular challenges that staff from this specialty had experienced through the pandemic, and the approaches that ward leaders have taken to support them – including a breakout room which has been created to provide an opportunity get away from the ward during breaks, and which included lots of resources to support staff.
Workforce was clearly very important to this team, and I was able to talk to an international recruit who had been warmly welcomed, as well as seeing flexible working in action as the senior sister post is a job share between a very experienced leader and someone recently promoted. Both were learning from each other and enjoying this way of working.
I was also delighted to visit the specialist nurse ‘lid’ clinic that was in progress, and to hear about the many specialist pathways that nursing staff could pursue to develop their careers.
On ward 21, I spoke to Dr Alan Cunningham and the team to see how they had repurposed the service following the opening of the cataract unit at the Centre for Ageing and Vitality. This has now been transformed into an outpatient area for assessments, and a digital imaging hub for macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetes patients who need retinal screening.
Unfortunately, this transformation has been completed without major estates works, but the team have certainly made the best of the space they have. This is a very extensive multi-disciplinary team – involving consultants, nurses, optometrists, and medical photographers – who are developing much stronger links with community colleagues.
Once again, the enthusiasm, good nature and pride of the team came shining through as it did in my final stop – the very busy Newcastle Eye Clinic – the hub of our outpatient care where we see huge volumes of patients and inevitably have large waiting lists.
The team are running Thursday evening and Saturday clinics using overtime and flexible working to support urgent patients, and the staff are determined to continue this as they can see the impact that those clinics have on their patients’ sight. They have also introduced a ‘fail safe’ officer to avoid harm for patients in their pathways.
I was humbled by the efforts that all the staff I have met recently are making, and continue to be very grateful for the care and effort which everyone gives each day. Thank you all.
Awards and achievements
British Journal of Nursing Awards – The Newcastle Specialist Continence Team were named not only overall ‘Gold’ winners for the Continence Nurse of the Year Award at the British Journal of Nursing Awards but were also ‘silver winners’ in the same category.
The Gold Award was presented for their RIISE project (Reducing and identifying infection using surveillance and education) and the Silver Award for their bowel and bladder assessment project. You can read more here.
Raising awareness – A powerful new film was launched at the RVI last week to help raise awareness of the devastating impact of anaphylaxis. Developed by Beat Anaphylaxis and the North East and North Cumbria Child Health and Wellbeing Network, it features Delyth and Graham Raffell who speak so movingly about their daughter Ellen’s tragic death from anaphylaxis in 2019.
The film is hosted on www.BeatAnaphylaxis.co.uk, which is a website that contains a wide range of resources and support links designed, not only for patients and their families, but also professionals in teaching and healthcare.
Senior research leader – Matron for the clinical research directorate, Fiona Yelnoorkar, is one of 35 nurses and midwives nationally and one of two regionally who have been appointed to the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Senior Research Leader programme. The three-year programme aims to develop the research delivery workforce locally and regionally, and promote an integrated research culture to improve care for patients.