Published on: 17 June 2022

This is a long blog but – spoiler alert – do read it to the end, I guarantee you’ll be glad you did.

And so whilst I have a number of really positive things to mention this week I will start with a negative – and that was my Covid test over the weekend, which you can imagine was a very welcome sight indeed. I am feeling much better, thanks to everyone who has asked and sent wishes for a speedy recovery, which were really appreciated.

Before I leave the topic of Covid, it would be remiss of me not to quickly mention two things. The first is that it clearly has not gone away and for that reason we have decided this week to keep our Infection Prevention Control (IPC) measures in place without any changes. I know this is a hot topic around all settings and within all teams, with some people on the side of relaxing some of the measures and others concerned about doing so.

In the end, in close consultation with our Director of IPC Sandra Long and after some significant discussions, we decided that taking into account the local picture of infections in Pennine Lancashire and the Trust’s own concerns and risks connected to relaxing or removing restrictions, we would keep things in place for now.  This will, of course, remain under review week to week and we’ll keep you updated as to any changes as they’re made.

I know this was mentioned in yesterday’s Teams Brief, but I wanted to add my own thanks to colleagues across the Trust in both hospital and community settings who continue to manage our response to Covid. The team in ward C7 at Royal Blackburn Teaching Hospitals are now the only inpatient area looking after people who are Covid positive. I want to recognise that whilst the rest of the world might appear to be ‘moving on’ these colleagues continue to live with the impact of the virus daily and it is both valued and appreciated.

Now changing the subject from Covid but sticking with recognising brilliant people, I do want to also give a shout out to everyone in the estates and facilities team, following the national ‘estates and facilities day’ on Wednesday. I was at the NHS Confederation Conference (more on that in a moment) but I know colleagues visited as many sites as possible to thank teams right across the Trust and provide goodies to celebrate. I hope you enjoyed a moment to reflect on how instrumental you all are to the smooth running of the organisation – I’m not being flippant when I say we genuinely couldn’t do any of it without you.

I have said many times that I am incredibly proud to be part of this Trust and I mean it. To represent us at national events is always an honour and a privilege and so I was pleased to be part of the NHS Confederation conference this week.

What I wasn’t expecting was for ELHT to be mentioned twice in the opening address, firstly by the Chair of NHS England Sir Richard Meddings and then by the Chief Executive of NHS England Amanda Pritchard. You’ll remember both visited us recently and both were impressed.

In his speech, Sir Richard spoke about the brilliant partnership working we had shared with him during his visit and specifically mentioned our NHS Chefs of the Year 2021 Sanish Thomas and Sinto Mulavarickal in connection with the quality of the catering provided at the Trust.

Amanda then referenced the projects and outcomes she had seen on her visit, in particular talking about what she had heard about our flexible approach to clinical pathways and the remodelling work we had done in Critical Care. She closed this part of her speech on an energetic note observing to the audience that it 'seems everyone wants to visit Blackburn!’

This recognition is not just about what Richard or Amanda saw when they visited Royal Blackburn, but about the totality of what they heard about the work of the entire Trust and everyone in it across both hospital and community settings and teams. I want everyone who works in the Trust to know that every contribution, every colleague, every team is part of that – and what a brilliant thing to be part of in my view.

Generally in her conference address Amanda talked about her priorities as Chief Executive of NHSE, which she characterised of the ‘ four Rs’ of recovery, resilience, respect and reform. These are the headlines I wanted to share – I don’t think any will come as a surprise to us at the Trust and we are on with tackling them too:

  1. Recovery after the pandemic - particularly ensuring we are innovative and utilise everything at our fingertips to get our waiting lists down. This includes using technology and data to drive our focus and ensuring we work together, collaboratively to deliver the best possible productivity and efficiency. In Pennine Lancashire and in Lancashire and South Cumbria as a whole I know we are working extremely well together but the question will remain ‘what more can we do?’
  2. Resilience with specific reference to staff is a big one for everyone in the NHS. We have a very complex challenge to balance: the health and well-being of current colleagues who have worked relentlessly through the pandemic but now continue to be pivotal to our recovery. Amanda talked about respecting people and recognising the ‘sacrifice of the workforce’ during the pandemic. She stressed the findings of the recent Messenger Report which you might have seen on the news and a common theme throughout the day was the many examples of great leadership but the need to reduce discrimination and address equality. I think we have some good intelligence, focus and plans for improvement in this area but there is more to do no doubt.
  3. Connected to this topic the high number of vacancies across the NHS was noted and the challenge to attract, recruit and retain more people is clearly fundamental to our recovery. Amanda also referenced her intention to respect the tax paying public who are putting more funds into the NHS through the National Insurance levy and we must ensure we deliver the required elective recovery in return. On this, there are clearly areas the Trust could tackle such as the high use of bank and agency workers, who I would like to see join the Trust as substantive colleagues and benefit from our positive staff benefits including their own training and development.
  4. Post pandemic demand is outstripping capacity across the NHS and, as we have mentioned many times, this is particularly impacting on urgent and emergency pathways. This was a recurrent theme during the day and projects already up and running (and winning awards!) at ELHT such as the virtual wards, SDEC facilities and working with partners to improve discharges to ensure flow were really key themes throughout the discussions.
  5. There was also a clear theme about respecting and listening to patients and their families as we aspire to the highest quality services. Here Amanda quoted the Ockenden Review into maternity services as one example where the NHS needs to be open to listening, learning and changing where required. Whilst again I think we are strong in this area, I also completely agree that we do need to listen to what patients want and what matters to them as a first step in everything we do.
  6. Lastly, system reform and the need to develop strong collaboration and partnership working across local areas and through the establishment of Integrated Care Systems and Integrated Care Boards will be paramount. I covered this is a recent blog here.

Amanda was candid in sharing her top three concerns which were service pressures, workforce and the need to have time to concentrate on and plan for the future.

A common theme I also picked up was that ‘because we are the NHS we can’ do it and believing this is always the first step towards delivering it in my opinion. It is recognised that it is really hard and tough to be in the NHS at the moment but together we can deliver.

I ask only that in the process of trying we look after each other and be mindful of the impact on ourselves and our health and well-being and I know this is something we actively acknowledge in the Trust, but we mustn’t forget.

Lastly, I couldn’t end today without a mention for the team in the emergency department who organised a last minute ‘love blessing’ for a couple who came in and received news that one of them had just 24 hours left to live. They asked if they could be married and although there was not time for all the legal requirements to make this possible, colleagues were only too happy to help and quickly contacted the Chaplaincy team who were able to perform a ceremony through which they could express their love for each other. 

With the support of our equally amazing Chaplaincy team they prepared a ceremony, dressed the patient’s bay with sheets and flowers from a local florist, brought in a cake, gave the patient a makeover, created an order of service and even offered the couple one of their own rings to keep.

I have seen the pictures of this emotional moment and the couple look so happy it’s quite overwhelming to comprehend.

I am so pleased we were able to make this happen for them – my thanks, love and admiration go out to everyone involved. The spirit of ELHT and everyone who is part of it never ceases to touch me with its genuine kindness and compassion for others.

I told you it was worth reading until the end and, yes, I have got something in my eye. Have a great week.