Published on: 17 March 2023

There’s only really one topic to talk about this week and that is the phenomenal response to the industrial action that took place between 7am on Monday and the same time yesterday by junior doctors in the NHS, including East Lancashire Hospitals.

I am both proud and thankful to everyone across all teams, services and settings across the Trust for the diligent planning and preparation that has happened over the last few weeks to allow us to manage the significant risks of this complex and difficult situation so comprehensively for patients and their families.

For example, consultants who have stepped in to support in areas and ways that they wouldn’t normally, advanced nurse practitioners, divisional rota teams, medical staffing all stepping up – in fact everyone has done brilliantly and I’ll stop namechecking because I fear I’ll miss someone! It really was a total team effort.

As you would expect, I have been on site and ‘out and about’ across as many wards and departments as possible during the week and what I observed was the spirit of the ELHT we all know and love. The philosophy that pervaded all areas was that whilst it was a difficult ask, ‘we’re all in it together’ and we could get through it as a team.

I have said it before but it bears repeating and remembering that, when the chips are really down, there is no better team or people to have by your side than ELHT. I genuinely mean that. I have the very best colleagues any Chief Executive could wish for.

This particular period of industrial action is, of course, part of a wider landscape of ‘strikes’ that have been taking place across the NHS and other public sector bodies, led by many unions representing hundreds of thousands of workers across the UK.

I want to say – again – that I completely respect the right of individuals to take part in industrial action and recognise that, for most people, taking the decision to do so is never done lightly or with any ease.

But it does impact on colleagues and our services and it important local people are aware of this and assured so far as is possible that there are plans in place.

All industrial action is a challenge to plan for and the team at the Trust always aims to manage with as little disruption for patients and their families as possible. As I have said before, this involves moving colleagues around to cover, protecting urgent and emergency care services and, wherever possible, carrying on with as much planned work as we can and especially those who have already waiting a long time or need treatment in priority areas like cancer.

It is a simple fact that some of our scheduled care, including operations and elective procedures, were cancelled in recent days and I know that this was at the eleventh hour for some people.

I am sorry for the disappointment and any inconvenience created for you, but know the rationale for late cancellations was our commitment to continuing with as much as we could until there was literally no other choice. This led us only to cancel appointments which could not go ahead for Monday on Friday and for Tuesday and Wednesday only when had exhausted every other conceivable avenue.

Over the last few days we had actually planned to postpone around 1,000 appointments and procedures but, as the days progressed and teams came together to cover, we were able to bring that down.

This in itself was amazing in the circumstances.

People came in that we were not expecting to be here – and for that I am truly grateful. I won’t say any more or be specific as I am conscious not to be divisive in any way, but I do want colleagues to know that their actions – their energy, determination and drive – did make a difference to local people and their families. Of that I have absolutely no doubt.

To this point, yesterday we welcomed our talented team of junior doctors back into work, as we have with many professional groups who have taken industrial action previously and in line with our commitment to safe, personal and effective care, as well as the Trust’s overarching values and expected behaviours.

I am confident today people will pick up their ‘to do’ lists with respect for each other and our individual circumstances, whilst working collectively to deliver quality care and treatment for our patients.

Again, I want to say how proud and thankful I am of the strong, inclusive and compassionate culture we have in ELHT that we can weather these moments positively, accept our differences and alternative points of view and move forward together as one.

As testimony to earlier blogs where I have touched on our unwavering commitment to continuous improvement, what is also clear is how much we have learned during our planning, preparation and delivery of services during industrial action in the past few months and the past few days have been no different.

I know we have identified where temporary processes or variations from the norm have actually resulted in improved activity with tangibly better outcomes for our patients. These approaches will now be formally captured and implemented.

To deliver this among everything else is incredible but very much who we are as a team and a Trust. I love that we inevitably take issues or difficulty and make the best of it. It’s life affirming and a source of huge personal pride.

It’s been a long, busy and tiring few weeks so I won’t add much more now, but I thought it remiss of me not to comment and put on record the brilliant effort from everyone who has worked so hard to plan, prepare and effectively manage these challenges over the last few days.

It was good to see movement on pay talks yesterday and I am optimistic it will settle things down.

Thank you so much for everything you are doing – never have I appreciated it more.