The ‘soft stuff’ is the hard stuff

Workforce is a hot topic in the NHS at the moment. The Long Term Plan is underpinned by the need to support and develop our workforce in radically different ways from training right through to retirement.

Work on a national level is moving at speed and this week I was delighted to learn I had been appointed to the NHS Assembly – a new forum which will support the delivery of the NHS Long Term Plan.

Building on the collaborative approach to developing the plan, the Assembly has been created to advise the Boards of NHS England and NHS Improvement on delivery of the improvements in health and care it has  outlined.

Members are drawn from national and frontline clinical leaders, patients and carers, staff representatives, health and care system leaders and the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector and I’m very much looking forward to working with such passionate advocates of health and social care, as well as being a voice for Newcastle and the North East!

But we can’t wait for the Long Term Plan to come up with all of the answers. There is plenty that we can do – and are doing in Newcastle – to make sure that all of our staff are supported, able to develop and to make sure that Newcastle Hospitals is the very best place to work.

Special time with our amazing staff networks. Wonderful people doing inspiring work

I recently had the pleasure of meeting with our Joint Staff Network, which is an opportunity for our networks representing staff with different protected characteristics to come together to review how we are doing as an organisation in developing a diverse and inclusive workforce.

One member of the disability network, Cheryl Gascoigne, is an OT in our paediatric services. She shared with me her overwhelming experience of receiving a kidney and the amazing support she had received from her managers and colleagues following her transplant last year.

Cheryl said ‘with support, understanding and reasonable adjustments I remained in my full-time post until the day before my admission for surgery. With the same understanding and with the support of occupational health I was enabled to return to work eight weeks post-surgery. I will be forever grateful to my managers and my community colleagues who have understood my situation and have supported me to continue to do a job that I love.’

Talking to Cheryl was emotional for us both and for everyone listening at the meeting. It reminded me how much of an impact each of us can have on one another. I firmly believe that the organisation which values the uniqueness of every member of the team is one which will be stronger. That takes mutual respect, even at moments when things may be difficult and at times when people disagree.

The network members told me that they were seeing a difference in the organisation and that they found their work was being valued by their managers and teams. They reported that people felt more comfortable to join in with equality network activities. They also saw more visibility of diversity in the organisation and were able to feel confident about having a different voice. Overall, they felt comfortable to participate and be proud of the work we are doing in the Trust. That was great to hear and is an endorsement of the journey that we are on.

This got me thinking about how difficult it can be to prioritise and address what is often perceived as the ‘soft stuff’ that we need to tackle to make our organisation the best it can be. When we are finding our way through the individual human emotions and conversations that make up our days it can be so easy to get something wrong and when that happens, it can be much harder to fix a fractured relationship than to address some of the other tasks we face every day.

The ‘soft stuff’ really can be the hardest to change. It takes us all to be attentive to our impact on others and our own emotional resilience. Above all, it takes us to be kind, and fortunately that’s something that we are exceptionally good at.

Join me on the start line!

As you know, I am beginning to focus on my training for some running challenges this year and am looking forward to taking part in my first Great North Run in September to raise money for the Great North Children’s Hospital. I was lucky enough to meet Brendan Foster recently which sparked even more excitement for the event. I’m told that everyone should do the GNR at least once, and I’m looking forward to experiencing the atmosphere that I’ve heard so much about.

If you’d like to join me on the start line, we still have a number of charity places left, both for the GNCH charity fund and for some other funds. Each place costs £50 and we’re asking you to raise at least £250. We will be arranging some special events for charity runners as the race gets closer including some training runs (which will almost certainly be followed by cake!) If you’re interested, you can contact: [email protected] to register.


I hope you’ve felt the benefit of our ‘Let’s work better’ theme in March I’ve certainly appreciated more

people using their photos on emails. In such a big organisation it’s really helpful to put a face to a name when people from around the Trust get in touch with me. It’s fitting that our next Flourish event in April will focus on the staff survey which is one of the most important ways that we have of hearing your views and experiences so that we can work – and improve – together and improve together. I’m looking forward to meeting everyone at the event.

Next month we are giving you some tools to carry out your own challenges and form some new healthy habits. We’ve heard from lots of teams that they would like to have more nudges to eat more healthily, drink more water or move a bit more – so our #PledgeItPlanIt packs will help you to set your goal and stick with it. Please let me know how you get on.

Emergency Department – weight loss team

I wanted to highlight the amazing achievements of our ED department who contacted me recently.

Collectively they have lost an incredible 108kg / 238lb in weight in eight weeks, which is an amazing achievement. The success of the weight loss club has now spurred on other staff members and part two is now up and running with some new faces. Well done!

Out and About

It was a pleasure to meet Lord Henley with our partners from Newcastle University and Newcastle City Council to talk about our shared ambitions and enterprise

On Friday 15 March, I was delighted to welcome Lord Henley, Minister for the Department of Business, Enterprise and Industry to the Trust. Newcastle Hospitals hosted this visit along with our colleagues from the University and City Council. Lord Henley was able to see the impact of research at the Biomedical Research Centre and hear about the role we are playing to meet the Government’s grand challenge on ageing. He was also able to meet a patient taking part in a research programme at the BRC and hear first hand about the groundbreaking work taking place in the Trust.

On Tuesday 26 March I spent a wonderful afternoon with the critical care and peri operative teams at the RVI. I learned so much about the development work they are taking forward to ensure that we are as efficient and forward thinking as we possibly can be. And was so humbled by the care and kindness I saw being provided to our patients with high dependence and intensive care needs. Meeting Jess, one of the pet therapy dogs, was an added bonus!

Absolute pleasure to meet critical care colleagues and see first hand the exemplary care they provide for our patients with intensive & high dependency needs. An added bonus was meeting David & Jess from Pets As Therapy UK who were visiting ward 18

I was also able to pop into our surgical suite at the Great North Children’s Hospital and meet one of our valued volunteers, Alison Winship. Alison was able to show me the 3D distraction kit and our brand new mini  Maserati which takes our young patients to theatre  in style.

World Transplant Games

The World Transplant Games is coming to Newcastle, Gateshead and Sunderland in the summer and will welcome over 2400 athletes and supporters from over 60 countries. Taking place from Saturday 17 – Saturday 24 August, it will include over 7,500 hours of sport and will also celebrate the gift of life that transplant brings.

The Trust is an important partner in the games and I’d like to encourage people to save the date and think about getting involved. The Games are about to begin recruiting volunteers and are particularly looking for volunteers who speak different languages. You can find more about this on the games website.

Your chance to become a Governor

Our Council of Governors is a vital part of the Trust representing the interests of staff, patients and the public and ensuring that the Board of Directors continues to act effectively. It’s a really important role and a great way to learn more about the workings of one of the biggest and most complex organisations in the NHS.

Over the next three weeks, we are looking for up staff who would like to be considered to take on this role for the next three years. Governors are elected by our members – and as members of staff you are all eligible to become members and have your say. You can join by clicking here

The current vacancies are for the following staff categories:

  • Ancillary and Estates
  • Nursing, Midwifery and related
  • Volunteers
  • Medical and Dental
  • Health Professionals Council and related

If you are in one of these staff groups and would like to work more closely to make a difference please get in touch. You can find more information on the trust website here.

Dr Varma’s charity Ball

I’d like to mention an event which has been arranged in memory of Dr Varma, one of our anaesthetists who very sadly passed away suddenly last year. A Memorial Ball will be held on Saturday 15 June at the Grand Hotel Gosforth Park. Tickets for the event are £40, and can be purchased here: For further details email: [email protected]