August 2014

You may have come across a campaign called Big Up the NHS. My own interest in it reflects an abiding belief that we do not do quite enough to celebrate and publicise the very many successes behind our care.  This month I had the privilege to launch our 2014 Staff Awards shortlist.  One award is nominated by local people who use our services, the others by our 7,500 staff.  The awards ceremony will take place at Villa Park in October.  Every one of the 400 nominations that we had (our largest ever) deserve special mention and our thanks, and the shortlist reflects real talent, both from individuals and teams.  I was perhaps especially thrilled to see current and ex-apprentices among colleagues nominated for special mention.

At the same time, two of our teams are shortlisted in the Nursing Times Awards.  iCares, our adult integrated care team in Sandwell, and our Health and Wellbeing Service (whose good work sits behind our public health plan) have both been selected.  With all the work our teams have done over the last eighteen months especially on integrating services and on staff and patient wellbeing, these are very appropriate nominations that offer national recognition for local glories.

If you read the Sandwell Chronicle we continue to highlight most weeks an NHS Hero, someone in our staff who has made an enduring and distinctive contribution to care.  In a little over a year from now, the first students will be enrolled, aged 14 and 16, in the new University Technical College on West Bromwich High Street.  Along with West Midlands Ambulance Service and the University of Wolverhampton, our Trust has played a part in the journey to this latest venture.  Part of the ethos of the UTC is to introduce young students to social and health careers at a formative age.  Any parent considering whether this is a good option for their family could do worse than look through editions of the Chronicle to see the sheer variety of roles a Trust like ours employs, and the personal fulfilment my colleagues have found in that work.

This month our Chairman, Richard Samuda and I, hosted our inaugural quarterly long service awards.  Those who have given 20 or more years’ service to the NHS were honoured and I hope that the trip down memory lane, through all the many changes in care locally over the years was a fitting tribute to their service.  That ingenuity, flexibility and willingness to adapt is a skill we have and a talent we need to nurture.  The best of our future plans, Right Care Right Here, and the work we are now doing to reshape care in light of the Midland Met announcement last month, demands those skills.  But so too does the more difficult side of future change, in which we have to change the shape and nature of our workforce.  I think we have never hidden the scale of that change.  I am sure in coming months I will return to the topic.  In the meantime, given some local media comment, I would simply reflect that we will not do anything that compromises safety, and if we implement changes and see adverse effects, we will stop those changes and reverse them.  Though we will be reducing some workforce numbers we remain committed to our role as a local employer and will press ahead with vigour in developing young people into our NHS.  We have a bright future and those joining now can be part of that – perhaps part of bigging up the NHS twenty years from now.

Two months from now we will welcome 50 or so inspectors into our community teams and hospital sites.  Those professionals from elsewhere, and experts by experience with a patient’s eye on what we do, will test the calibre of our services – asking the five key questions that underpin the new Care Quality Commission model: Are we caring, responsive, effective, safe and well led?  In December we will know the results by service and by site.  And where there are recommendations for improvement we will press ahead with those in the same spirit as we tackle issues we identify, or patients in raising concerns identify for us.  Our approach to the inspection will owe nothing to talking up what we do.  Our preparation and conversations inside the Trust focus on being open about our strengths and weaknesses and demonstrating insight into how we can do better.  The expertise of the inspection teams will give us new ideas as well as a sense of how we measure up to the best that the NHS has to offer.

On September 25th we host this year’s Annual General Meeting.  With a special presentation on technology in healthcare from both patients and some of our staff, as well as the Board reporting back to local people about the recent past and the immediate future of services.  Do please come along, and if you cannot, but have a question that you want us to tackle do get in touch with me through  Similarly, keep an eye out for newspaper adverts confirming the timings and venues of the CQC Public Meetings about us.  These are organised by the Care Quality Commission without Trust involvement, but I know that they will take place on the evening of Tuesday October 14th.  The Trust is your local NHS and a really important part of what we learn from the inspection is what you tell the visiting teams about what we do well and where we must do better.

Thinking back to our AGM from 2013 at Sandwell, our discussions were very much dominated by the winter plans.  One of the successes of last year was our flu vaccination campaign.  The Trust was one of the highest vaccinators anywhere in the country and our team won awards for their work.  In just a few weeks’ time the campaign begins again.  We are really committed both for patients and our staff to a successful programme to maximise vaccination rates.  This is an area of medicine where the actions of others impact on us all, because we need to reach what is called herd immunity.  If you are due a vaccination, please do step forward.  This is a crucial part of the upcoming plan we have in the NHS for winter 2014.

One area where we must do better, and this is true nationally, but is also true locally, is the care of people with mental health issues who use our physical health services.  We have some teams within our Trust who provide specialist support to those patients and their families.  The special winter monies provided to the local health service will, this year, have a real emphasis on mental health investments.  We continue to work with both mental health Trusts operating locally to see what more we can do together to improve access and we are meeting in coming weeks with Health and Wellbeing Board chairs to discuss those ambitions and our remaining concerns.  If you happen to study the Trust’s public risk register, discussed at each Board meeting, you will immediately have a sense of the importance that we attach to these issues, even where they are not “our job” and especially our determination to improve services for young adolescents locally and their families.  We want to be part of an NHS where the most vulnerable have real priority.

Toby Lewis
Chief Executive