Published on: 2 February 2024

It might be the psychological effects of the calendar clicking over from January to February, some slightly lighter nights and some welcome brighter, perhaps even sunny days, but I’m determined today’s blog is going to bring some joy and, more importantly, some hope too.

Regular readers will know how much I value both of these emotions which, in my opinion, keep us going in the most challenging of times. It’s true also to say I find them across ELHT every day in spades and it’s true that this can be the difference between a good and a bad day.

So, I feel like it would be remiss of me as Chief Exec not only to recognise and acknowledge the importance of joy and hope, but to actively share it with others.

I’m going to start with an unusual story of a wedding at Royal Blackburn Teaching Hospital last Friday between a patient and his long-standing fiancée which touched everyone at the Trust and I know created a moment in their lives as well as memories which will last forever.

Sarah and Andrew Wilson, from Nelson, have been together for 19 years after meeting when they were neighbours. They got engaged three years later but following a recent diagnosis of metastatic tonsillar cancer, decided it was time to tie the knot and the wedding was arranged at the hospital with the help of colleagues on ward C5 and the team at the hospital’s charity ELHT&Me.

You can read all the details here but it’s probably worth having a tissue handy as I know many people have shared that the story brought them to tears.Thank you to everyone who made this couple’s hopes and dreams come true, who went more than the extra mile to bring joy to their lives at a difficult time and who made generous donations which ensured the wedding was everything they wished it to be.

I am sure I speak for everyone when I send love and best wishes to the bride and groom.

For me this story is a perfect example that happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light – and if you’re a Harry Potter fan you’ll recognise and appreciate that particular quote.

But there are myriad other stories and feedback that back up the idea that you can find joy and hope if you look for it – especially at ELHT.

Let me share just some of the recent feedback I have seen from patients in recent weeks, in case you haven’t seen it as a colleague, patient, visitor or part of the wider health and social care team working alongside us in these tough times.

I feel like it is of paramount importance to note and own these comments and remember that we’re providing great care and support to people each and every day. I know it doesn’t always seem that way and so thank you to those who share this feedback or post comments and feedback on social media to remind us. I’ve anonymised them here but know they’re powerful and appreciated.

“I could not fault the staff in the urgent treatment centre. Courteous and I was seen within 5 minutes of arriving.  Everything explained.  Modern new bays. You either see a doctor or practitioner, possibly a physio or senior nurse.  It's all dependent on your problem or symptoms. Well screened at home by 111 before you go. X Ray staff were brilliant and my x rays were reported on very promptly.  Consultant did, an overview with the junior doctor.  I was appreciative of the service I got.  Initially everything was done over the phone last week with a doctor ringing me at home. Thank you.“

“What an absolute amazing job you are all doing. From entering A&E, to triage, to Resus and the ENT staff, to a zone 5 cubicle to finally getting a bed at 2:30pm and totally getting tangled in wires from my drip! Every single member of staff I came across was absolutely fantastic under extremely difficult conditions. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything you are doing.”

“What amazing care from each and every nurse and doctor. Oh my gosh these people are angels on this earth. I don’t care that my wait was long because I knew I was surrounded by angels who would fight to save my life. Thank you. I know when I am there I am in good hands. These people deserve medals and all the help they can get. God bless you all and thank you. I would not be here if you were not there.”

“I would like to say a massive thank you to the surgical day case unit at RBH for looking after my mother-in-law who is currently fighting metastatic stomach cancer. She attended last Friday for an ascitic drain and she said all the staff in the unit were absolutely rushed off their feet all day, however they were all so helpful and caring. Not one of them complained and just cracked on with their jobs.”

Of course, it would be remiss of me to pretend that all the comments we receive or the feedback provided by patients and their families are all as positive as these are.

I know we get things wrong, that there are times when we simply should have provided better care and treatment and that there are patients who feel we didn’t listen to them carefully enough. In these circumstances please know your feedback is welcome and valuable. It helps us improve and we take it all very seriously without exception, so do let us know your own particular experience.

At the moment, I know some of the choices we are currently making, particularly in urgent and emergency care, are difficult ethical and emotional calls to make for colleagues and create difficult questions for our patients and their loved ones.

I have said many times we categorically do not want long waits to be seen in A&E or for those who need to be admitted to be cared for on hospital trollies until beds become available or, worse, on the hospital corridor. If you have complained about this, it’s recognised and accepted - and it isn’t what any of us would want for our own, albeit it we’re short on alternatives whilst the numbers of people attending remain the highest we have ever seen.

I gave an assurance last week that whilst patients are waiting for a bed, they are being cared for, reviewed, assessed and supported by colleagues. I also referenced that managing urgent and emergency care is a team effort supported by everyone on every ward and department and all colleagues working so hard out in the community.

To this point on Wednesday I bobbed into see the team on the Surgical Assessment Day Unit (SADU) at Royal Blackburn Hospital and I want to thank them all for welcoming me at a very busy time. The whole team were amazing, caring for a range of patients from quite significant to more minor surgical procedures, including trauma. On Wednesday, they were looking after 45 patients as well as providing support to help with the pressure in A&E.

What was abundantly clear and inspiring was that they’re a great, cohesive team that runs like a well-oiled machine. It was great speaking with colleagues and in particular Lorraine and Anna. I also want to mention Brenda who is, quite simply, a force of nature! She gave me a really good insight into the role of a Health Care Assistant (HCA) which a wider remit beyond what most people imagine. She was absolutely brilliant with the patients too – embodying our Trust values and providing safe, personal and effective care at its best.

This week I also went over to Accrington Victoria Community Hospital to see Angela Fowler, who manages the reception at the health centre there and has been with the NHS in East Lancashire for almost 42 years. This service is an incredible achievement and I will always try and get over personally to congratulate people where I can. Thank you so much Angela for everything you have done for our patients, their families and all colleagues – the totality of your contribution cannot be measured but it is appreciated.

And lastly on being out and about and seeing colleagues, I presented the NHS Chef of the Year Award, which I’ve mentioned before and you can read about here, to Dillan and Darby from the catering team, along with the Trust’s Chair Shazad Sarwar and special guest Tim Ratcliffe who used to run our catering and now works at NHS England. It always makes me proud to know we’re bucking the general assumption that hospital food could be better and that ELHT chefs are considered the best in the business.

Amidst all the challenges it remains important to me to still celebrate people and what we are doing well. I think this reminds us of who we are and what we aspire to as a team.

To every colleague at ELHT I say I know we are doing our best in very difficult circumstances, that we couldn’t be working any harder or doing any more and that I know everything we are currently dealing with is taking its toll on you personally too. I am so proud of everything we are achieving. Please, keep going, you’re doing amazing and it is appreciated more than you know. If you need help or support yourselves it is available, just ask.

When I say ‘every colleague’ I want to add that I do absolutely mean it and ELHT remains committed to inclusivity across all teams, settings and services. We actively work to create this and this month I am excited to announce that our Muslim Staff Network Group (MENG) has organised the Discover Islam Month, which is a series of events aimed at fostering understanding and appreciation of Islam and Muslim culture within ELHT itself and in our communities.

In addition, this activity should help us raise awareness about the dangers posed by Islamophobic hate crimes and the everyday discrimination faced by Muslims due to their religion. There is a full schedule of events here and please do get involved.

Lastly, in mentioning our fantastic team, including partners in the wider system and people working hard to achieve amazing things, I want to end with a shout out for our neighbours at Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust (LSCft) which provides mental health services across the region including in ELHT’s Pennine Lancashire patch.

Following a detailed inspection of its services by NHS regulators the Care Quality Commission (CQC) towards the end of last year, the Trust’s services have been re-categorised overall from ‘requires improvement’ to ‘good’ which is just brilliant. I know this will have taken monumental effort, unwavering focus and a whole load of energy from everyone at LSCft and I want to send congratulations to all on this achievement and especially my ‘oppo’ the Chief Exec Chris Oliver.

I truly believe that only by working as a team have we any hope of getting through these difficult times and experiencing the pure joy of caring for people as part of our amazing NHS – and so it’s great to know we have such great colleagues in our wider system.

That’s it for this week. Take care and keep letting me know your thoughts, views and feedback. It’s always welcome and I love hearing from you all.