Tough times

I want to talk this week about recognising how tough it is for everyone right now. The last few weeks have been difficult as we continue our efforts to increase access to services for our patients and worry about what the coming weeks might hold.

We are experiencing growing levels of COVID-activity with significant new restrictions imposed locally and nationally. We are all anxious about the impact this will have on our everyday lives, and our ability to see and care for our families and friends.

On top of this we are concerned about a winter that we know is likely to be more challenging due to the pandemic, and we know to expect an increase in flu cases, increasing emergency admissions and the inevitable dark evenings.

More and more, conversations have turned to how difficult this feels for all of us as social lives have been put on hold, holidays cancelled and the break from work that sustains so many of us each summer hasn’t happened.

I also know many people are worried about their own family situation with concerns about financial security becoming much more of a worry as COVID restrictions impact on many areas of the local economy.

As people who have chosen to work in caring professions we often, by nature, put other people’s worries before our own but we do need to pay attention to our own concerns and anxieties, as we approach these autumn months.

It’s going to be so important to look after ourselves and each other and I’d like to focus today on what more we can all do here in Newcastle.

As ever, our greatest strength is you – our people – who contribute to care and treatment in so many ways right across our hospitals and into the community. At the heart of our approach must be kindness and compassion not just to our patients, but also to each other, and indeed to ourselves.

Since I arrived in Newcastle over two years ago, I’ve been committed to improving support for staff and listening to your views and experience so that we can continue to provide outstanding care and be one of the best hospital trusts in the UK.

I’m inspired everyday by the stories I hear and by the emails I receive about the wonderful, compassionate and innovative work that takes place. In my regular check-ins with staff I learn about new projects being undertaken, hear your fresh ideas and am constantly struck by the passion to improve quality.

I’m driven to create the climate in this organisation where people truly can flourish. Through the Flourish framework, which has been developed throughout my career, I want staff to be enabled to be the best they can be.

To do this, we need clear strategic direction and governance for the organisation, whilst also ensuring that everyone feels valued at work. We need to have the mechanisms in place to support everyone to do the best they possibly can in their roles.

Importantly, Flourish isn’t just about staying healthy (although that’s really important! ). It’s about the experience of working here, our leadership approach, ensuring that people are valued and treated equally, working in a way that is sustainable and with a sharp focus on quality improvement and, importantly, enabling everyone to contribute to our shared success. It’s the ability to be authentic at work – to be who we truly are.

During my time as a nurse, a general manager, a board director and – for the last 17 years – as a CEO, I can recall the times when I felt I was flourishing. These times have been when I have been both challenged AND supported, when I have felt valued for my unique contribution and strengths, when I have felt able to balance the demands of work and home life.

More than this, these times have also been characterised by working alongside supportive colleagues where team behaviours were respectful and positive. I know that no matter how hard things are, being kind and supportive towards each other can be the difference between a good day and a really difficult one.

Right now, we all have moments of feeling vulnerable and shaky. I want everyone to be able to be confident in saying if they’re not ok. We should make it much easier to be able to ask for some additional help when we need it.

I’d like everyone to understand the direction of travel on those things we can feel some certainty about and to have the sense that we will support each other regardless of our title, position, ethnicity or sexuality – because we are a valued member of the team, all striving for the same aim.

Throughout this unusual year, we’ve listened hard and responded to what we’ve heard. I’m grateful to the staff wellbeing ‘cell’ including staffside and chaplaincy colleagues, as well as several others, who were able to ensure that psychological and practical support was provided when it was needed – and we will continue to make this available.

I have heard how thankful people were for the work of the catering and car parking teams who have done everything they can to make working life a little bit easier every day. The Schwartz round and psychology teams are other fabulous examples of making quick and significant changes so that people can get the support and space they need.

It’s also been clear that regular and honest communication was valued by staff and that people welcomed faster decision-making and problem solving. We’ve provided more outdoor seating at the RVI for staff and I’m delighted to see the fruit and veg staff at our Freeman Hospital. We’re continuing to look at further improvements we can make to staff facilities which I know will make a difference to you.

As I read through the NHS People Plan I could easily see many areas where we are doing well and making progress, and our staff survey confirms this. We have learned so much about what’s important to get right for people in this lengthy period of uncertainty and we will continue to listen, learn and change. But I want to come back to the point that there is much more that we can do.

While our Flourish programme and the NHS People Plan both give us a destination; the experience and the success of our journey is something that we can all contribute to.

We’ll continue to run big events (virtually of course) and I’m announcing a series of these for the autumn later in this blog, but I’d like to encourage you to focus in your teams and directorates about what would make a difference for you locally.

What are your priorities, challenges and plans that will help you and those around you to flourish?

I want our flourish programme to be something that creates positivity and confidence in every team, no matter how big or small. Perhaps now is the ideal time to seize the opportunity to make a small, but sustainable positive difference by having a supportive conversation with a colleague, or simply performing a random act of kindness?

Our sense of community, care and compassion is what makes Newcastle Hospitals so special, and I’m proud to be leading such an inspiring and dedicated team of people.

Through the pandemic, I’ve been touched by the generosity of the public, who have supported our own charity directly and through the national body NHS Charities together.

We’re using some of these donations to support staff in lots of different ways, some of which I’ve mentioned already, and I want to highlight the following up-and-coming events over the next few weeks which have been made possible by this generosity.

‘Taking Care of Yourself and your Future’

Speaker, inspirational trainer, coach and author Steve Head will host two live ‘webinar’ sessions with staff on:

  • Thursday 1 October – 2.30pm
  • Thursday 5 November – 3.30pm

Whether you are in a clinical or non-clinical role, working from home, or on the frontline, Steve will be able to offer some tools and practical ways of thinking to help you cope with the emotional and logistical challenges that COVID-19 has created in his own dynamic way.

His two-hour sessions – ‘Taking Care of Yourself and your Future’ – are specifically designed to address various emotional, practical and psychological challenges, and will help you to pause, think and take control. To register your interest email [email protected]

Leadership Congress

‘Leading through Uncertainty’ – Our next Leadership Congress is scheduled for Wednesday 18 November. This virtual session for leaders across the trust will be hosted by the Chimp Management Company. Based on the work of Prof Steve Peters, author of The Chimp Paradox, it will focus on ‘managing through uncertainty’ and draw on their experience of supporting leaders in business and in elite sport.

Our Climate Emergency Strategy Launch

On Thursday 22 October we’ll be launching our Climate Emergency Strategy starting at 12noon.

Our Annual Members Meeting

We’ll be hosting our first ever virtual Annual Members’ meeting on Tuesday (29 September) from 2pm to 3.30pm where we’ll be looking back over our activity and celebrating our successes in the last year.

Anyone wishing to join the meeting by videoconference can do so by emailing [email protected] or calling 0800 015 0136. In addition, please submit any questions for consideration in advance of the meeting to the same email.