What matters to us

For lots of reasons this has felt like a difficult week to work in the NHS.  I want to start by acknowledging how hard everyone is working during these ongoing challenging circumstances and express my heartfelt thanks for your efforts.  I know that everyone across our organisation is doing everything they can to care for our patients.

It’s remarkable that staff continue to rise to the challenges we face across the NHS and it’s important that we don’t take that flexibility and loyalty for granted.

There is no doubt that services across the trust are responding to our patients needs and in published NHS figures for January, we had 4% more elective admission treatments than the next busiest trust in the country – and 40% more than some other major hospitals were able to deliver – which is an exceptional achievement. This is just one example of the efforts everyone is making.’

However, this week we have seen levels of sickness and staff isolation due to covid rising quickly to 3.3% (taking our total staff absence rate to 8%) and our urgent and emergency care services continue to see high numbers of patients presenting with complex needs.

This is adding to the pressures we have to accelerate the rate at which we see and treat patients who have waited too long.

It’s a credit to everyone in the team that our standards of care remain high, and our focus continues to bePicture of Okenden report with a purple front cover on providing high quality and safe services, but I do know that this relentless pressure has taken its toll.

Over the last two years, the pace we have had to work at and the innovation everyone has needed to display has been both energising and tiring.

This week’s publication of the truly distressing report by Donna Ockenden about maternity care in Shrewsbury and Telford is sobering reading for everyone who cares about safe care, and leaves no doubt about the heart-breaking experience of families when services fail.

Together we have a responsibility to our patients, our local community and to each other as colleagues, to provide safe care.  In my last blog, I outlined some of the actions we are taking to continuously improve the safety of our services, but the Ockenden report reminds us all, once again, of the personal responsibility we all have to speak up.  In the trust we continue to strive to listen and learn when things go wrong, and I would encourage you again, to talk to your manager if you have concerns.

If that’s not easy for you there are many other options including ‘speak in confidence’ – an anonymous secure web-based system where you can get in touch with senior managers in the trust – as well as our Freedom to Speak Up guardian. Further details about this can be found under the general information section of the intranet.

The circumstances that have converged to create our pressures are not something that we have control over, but we are responding to them positively.

We are making investments in the workforce and in things that matter to us – better facilities, more flexible working, investment in our estate to improve the working environment, and investment in staff teams (without impacting on existing services) with a recruitment drive about to get underway for the day treatment centre at the Freeman Hospital which opens later this year.

I am confident that by working together as a team – and by remaining positive – we will continue to make a difference.  You have my support, and the support of the whole board and executive team, and we are all very grateful for your ongoing efforts.

NHS Staff SurveyGraphic with dark blue background, graphics of people and 'what matters to you' logo with the text: Thank you to each and every one of our 7336 staff who took part in the NHS Staff Survey.

This week saw the publication of the NHS staff survey – the annual national temperature check of staff experience for the NHS and for us here in Newcastle Hospitals.

The survey is an important barometer of what it’s like to work in the NHS and I have always believed that everyone in the organisation should have this opportunity to share their views.

I’m grateful to the 7,336 people who took the time to complete the survey in October 2021.  You can find out more about the full results for the organisation and national comparators here 2021 NHS Staff Survey Results – Flourish at Newcastle Hospitals.

Once again, colleagues have responded positively and honestly – thank you for that. After the unprecedented two years we have all been through, it’s important that we continue to focus on listening to and responding to the very clear messages that you, our staff are consistently giving us.

Our infographic highlights some of the headline findings – with 90% saying they feel trusted to do their job and 85% feeling happy with the standard of care if a friend or relative needed treatment.

One important figure for me is the percentage of people recommending Newcastle Hospitals as a place to work.  At 65% we score well against the national average of 58.4% and I’m not surprised that this figure is lower than last year given the impact of the pandemic.  It remains a key marker of our efforts to improve the experience of working as part of the trust.

We know that it’s important to not try to ‘sugar coat’ these results.  While we score relatively well compared to other NHS organisations across the country, there are clear areas where we need to improve and that’s where we need to concentrate our efforts.

It is positive that there are no surprises in this feedback.  The themes emerging from the 2021 survey reflect what we already know from our detailed work over the past 12 months to find out ‘What Matters to You’ and our response to the survey also needs to build on the work already underway.

Three areas which have been consistently highlighted in all the work we have done so far, and reflectedGraphic with a blue background and white text that says: "What matters to you?" in the results of our staff survey are:

  • Greater autonomy and control – particularly more flexibility and more control over workload. To work smarter, not harder.
  • More participative management – to feel more involved, included, listened to and engaged in decisions that affect you.
  • Better physical and psychological safety – to feel physically and emotionally safe and supported, with mental health being a priority.

A huge amount of work is being carried out both trust-wide and in individual teams around these three themes, all with the aim of creating the very best place to work.

In the almost four years that I’ve been part of the team here, I’ve been clear that our journey to make sure that people have a positive working experience is fundamental to our success. We want to enable everyone to bring their best selves to work, but that’s still an ambition and we aren’t there yet.

Our staff survey results remind us of how much more we have to do through our Flourish programme. I know that we are making progress on the things that really matter and we are gathering a strong library of resources to showcase some of our successes and inspire other teams to make changes.  I’ve highlighted some examples below:

Flexible working

Staff have consistently told us that they want to work more flexibly, and this demand has increased over the last few years as many of us want to find a better work life balance.

This video highlights the process that our North Locality District Nursing service has put in place to create more flexible shifts, as well as improving the service they are able to offer to patients.

As Joanne Meredith, district nursing cluster co-ordinator says, “Try it, don’t be frightened by change and keep reviewing, listen to feedback and keep improving.”

Wellbeing at WorkPurple background with white Q logo

Many teams are focussing on improving wellbeing, and I was interested to hear from JJ Gacis when he presented an improvement project, he undertook in surgical services to the recent QI learning and sharing event.

You can watch his presentation here (starting at 30.45) and hear how he was able to make a positive difference as one part of a larger team.

Staff cateringPicture of pack for Ramadan including can of water, plastic packet of dates and a prayer mat.

I know that one of the biggest improvements we can make to staff experience is to improve catering facilities at the RVI and I’m delighted to confirm that the opening of our new bistro at Leazes Wing is on schedule for May this year.

Alongside this, the Peacock Hall bistro will be operating a service for night shift staff from Monday (4 April), from 10pm to 6am, seven days a week, with jacket potatoes, paninis, toasties, salads, fresh deli bar sandwiches, cakes and hot and cold drinks all available, as well as a hot Halal option during Ramadan. I know the team are keen to hear feedback from users so that they can continue to make positive changes.

The chaplaincy team, with the help of catering at the Freeman Hospital, have also put together some fasting packs for staff during Ramadan which include dates, water, a prayer calendar with safe advice for fasting and disposable prayer mats. Please get in touch with the team for more information.

Financial wellbeing

The cost-of-living crisis is a huge concern for many people and we have a range of support available, including:

  • Financial wellbeing workshops
  • Helping hands service which provides staff with free and easy access to impartial information and confidential advice from Citizens Advice Gateshead
  • Subsidised public transport until September

We are currently developing a guide for all of the financial benefits that staff can access, which will be available shortly, and you can also find further information on our Flourish website.

Supporting our leadersPicture of person with blonde hair presenting with PowerPoint presentation. People's backs of their heads are visible.

I’ve talked before about the impact that leadership makes on both staff and patient experience (you can read more in my previous blog here) and we are investing in leadership development for all staff groups.

I was struck by this comment from Dr. Rahul Bajekal, consultant anaesthetist/ clinical director in perioperative and critical care (RVI), who attended one of our recent strategic leadership programmes.

He said: “I really enjoyed the course – the cohort was without exception delightful and collegial. There were interactive sessions, excellent facilitators and I loved the opportunity to think and talk about strategy without my Dect phone going off! I met some superb colleagues and it reinforced my view that we work with outstanding and kind people with a shared purpose.”

Gail Haigh, senior HR manager in medical staffing commented: “Bringing together people across a variety of different areas meant it was great to meet other colleagues, but also good to see so much cross-working and enlightening to hear their experiences. Many of us were really inspired to get involved in the What Matters to You programme and think about how small changes in our areas can make a huge difference.”

Directorate manager for surgical services, Chris Wright, added: “The facilitators from IHI were outstanding. They foster both a learning environment that helped us safely explore ideas, but also a space where you could get to know your other peers and build on your internal network and friendships.

“There was also a strong focus on quality improvement and some great practical team building examples of this in action. It has equipped me with a new set of skills and challenged me to think differently in certain areas.”

Looking to the future

At the same time as looking at our day-to-day and week-to-week experience, as an executive and senior leadership team we are, of course, focussing on the strategic opportunities to support our workforce.

We know that workforce will be the key limiting factor in the health and care sector to enable the recovery in waiting times and service delivery that we all want to see.  Collectively across the trust, and more widely across the region, we need to develop a 15-year plus workforce plan which encompasses the trends and clinical developments we anticipate.

We need to imagine a future which will almost certainly be highly digitally enabled and enhanced by technology, with different, more flexible and healthier ways of working, and perhaps in a less traditional way.

We need to recruit and train for greater diversity in our workforce and working environment – ensuring that we have a flexible skill mix in both clinical and other technical areas and become more adaptable in how we work.

Our leaders will need to have different skills which enable them to be clear about – and role model – the behaviours we agree together and who are skilled in developing and supporting members of their teams, perhaps thinking about an academy approach for our future workforce.

Thank you once again for your dedication to our patients, and your compassion towards them and also to your colleagues.  Newcastle Hospitals is a special place, filled with special people and you are very much appreciated.

Picture of person wearing gloves, mask and visor, drawing up a vaccine with a syringe.

COVID-19 vaccination programme

It’s been 14 months since our COVID-19 vaccination programme was rolled out across the North East and North Cumbria and during that time, millions of doses have been administered to our local population from dedicated hubs and GP-led centres to community pharmacies, pop-up clinics and vaccination buses.

Working closely with our health and care partners, it’s clear there is sufficient capacity within the region’s primary care and community pharmacy to vaccinate the eligible population for both annual flu and COVID-19 into the future.

As a result, this month two of our large capacity vaccination centres at the NHS Nightingale North East and the Durham Arnison Centre closed and I would like to say a huge thank you to the staff and volunteers who stepped up to run and support them.

Tyne Tees health reporter Helen Ford has also done a reflective piece which you can read here.

I’d also like to acknowledge all those involved in the programme, including GP surgeries, community pharmacy teams, hospitals, the ambulance service, school vaccination services, local authority public health teams, community and voluntary sectors, which have now vaccinated a majority of people in this region against Covid.

More than 300,000 people in the region are now eligible for a spring booster jab, which are available to people over the age of 75, care home residents and people with weakened immune systems, and from tomorrow (2 April), parents can make a booking for a child aged 5 to 11.

Two members of the transplant team stood against a white wall, wearing masks

QI case study

The latest in our Quality Improvement case studies comes from our liver transplant assessment service and highlights how they were able to improve patient experience, create more effective MDT working and reduce the number of days patients spent in hospital through their improvement work.  Well done to everyone involved.

200th anniversary of Newcastle Eye Infirmary

Last week marked 200 years since the Newcastle Eye Infirmary first opened its doors and I’d like to thank all of our team, who currently perform around 65,000 procedures a year, as well as everyone who has contributed and developed these services.

Advancements in treatments and technology over the last two centuries have really revolutionised the way we care for our patients and it was also great to see some wonderful historic images of the Infirmary – thanks to Tyne and Wear Archives.

Donations for Ukraine

Thank you to everyone who donated to our Ukraine Appeal.  Our last donations have been collected by Ukraine Medical Aid North East and we know that previous consumables from the trust are already being used in a field hospital built to deal with the aftermath of a bombed maternity hospital. Of course, you can still support the charity directly which now has a dedicated website

International Trans Day of Visibility
Blue, pink and white striped heart with the text "International transgender day of visibility March 31

Yesterday marked International Trans Day of Visibility, which celebrating trans and non-binary people and aiming to raise awareness of discrimination faced by trans and non-binary people worldwide.

Transgender hate crimes have risen.  Hearing people talk about being too scared to leave their homes in fear of being attacked is the sad reality for a lot of transgender men and women.  This in turn can affect their confidence to access to NHS Services.  A significant number of trans people feel they face poor treatment when accessing healthcare services. Nationally:

  • Two in five trans people (41 per cent) said that healthcare staff lacked understanding of specific trans health needs when accessing general healthcare services in the last year.
  • Half of trans and non-binary people (51 per cent and 50 per cent respectively) have hidden or disguised the fact that they are LGBT at work because they were afraid of discrimination.
  • Almost one in 10 (nine per cent) health and social care staff are aware of colleagues experiencing discrimination or poor treatment because they are trans.

To show our support to staff and patients, the trust raised the Trans flag at the RVI and Freeman and we have developed some quick guides to help raise awareness of Non-Binary pronouns/terminology and top tips which are available on our intranet.

Awards, achievements and eventsPeople in gowns presenting Stephen with his certificate

  • Domestic supervisor at the RVI, Stephen Blench, has been awarded for recognition of excellence performance in City & Guilds, while studying his NVQ level 3 apprenticeship in supervisory for hotel services at RVI. Stephen started in the trust as a domestic supervisor in April 2017.
  • The Newcastle Specialist Continence Service won the ‘Continence Nurse of the Year’ category at this year’s British Journal of Nursing Awards for their Light Urinary Incontinence Project (LiP) with a core focus on good bladder healthcare and reducing the reliance on continence products whilst improving quality of life for patients and their loved ones.
  • Members of our Practice Education Team are finalists in this year’s Student Nursing Times Awards recognising their work with the North East and North Cumbria Covid vaccination hubs to rapidly create a unique placement allowing students to be involved in the response to the pandemic through the vaccination programme which brought so much hope to the nation.
  • Steph is stood in front of a backdrop, wearing a blue dress, holding the award in her handAnother huge congratulations to our Non-Executive Director, Steph Edusei, who was awarded the Transformational Leader award at the Northern Power Women Awards. Steph leads the way in promoting equal rights, ensuring the voices of BME women are heard nationally and strategically.
  • Following its success last year, Newcastle Hospitals Charity is holding an Easter Hunt photo competition from 13 – 19 April for The Great North Children’s Hospital Foundation. Families are asked to complete a list of photo challenges and submit them to our panel of judges with the best in each category winning prizes. There is a £10 entry fee per household and more information can be found here