July 2015

Black Country Day looms large in our Trust once again. This time last year, the Midland Metropolitan Hospital approval was granted in a ceremony at Rowley Regis. This year, with flags fluttering across the region, I was proud to be helping to launch our Black Country Alliance. This partnership is an NHS first, and it brings together three large community and hospital providers: Ourselves, Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust and Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust. Between us we spend a billion pounds of taxpayer’s money, and most importantly we serve over a million people locally. That scale is exactly why this partnership, our Alliance, matters. We know in health care that what we label ‘critical mass’, in plain English ‘big enough’, means that we can provide care in sufficient volume to offer better outcomes. By doing something often enough you improve a little, and of course by doing it commonly you put in place the support and infrastructure to do it well. Our Trust currently looks after just over half a million people, so the Black Country Alliance is a big step up for us, and for partners at the Manor and Russell’s Hall. We have been working on this idea for almost a year, and have some well-developed ideas about the initial opportunities to support research, recruitment, education, and specialist services. The launch today brought home how many fantastic ideas staff have across the Trusts. Our 2016 priorities will be shaped by those ideas and initiatives. BCA is not about doing everything together, but it is about improving outcomes by doing things together that make sense at scale. It is a long overdue collaboration, which in time others may join. Or put more bluntly, this is just common sense.

At the same time, we are making great progress with some local priorities. Our Birmingham expansion to heart failure services at home is moving along well. And in August we will centralise specialist interventional cardiology services on the City Hospital site. The clinical drive to make this happen has been outstanding, and partners have worked alongside them to handle the understandable concerns about additional travel time. Stroke services moved to Sandwell in 2013, and the subsequent reduction in mortality, and immense improvements in service quality, has been testimony to hard work by a new team. On September 10th we host a research symposium for clinical experts from across the West Midlands and wider NHS. I know that simply relocating a service does not guarantee improvements in quality, and we will be determined about following through the move of cardiac inpatient care to make sure we keep our promises to get better care in place. I am delighted that the commitment of nurses, technicians and doctors to getting the very best care has been matched by a major investment by our Trust in the best equipment. This is a new era for cardiac care, following hot on the heels of March’s launch of our new cardiac MRI service.

The rest of July will see us finalise our IT procurement plans. Doing the Black Country Alliance tour of Trust sites brought home once again how much we have to make information travel, keeping it available to patients, and making it available to clinical experts regardless of geography. The same point applies to hospital and home based services. It matters that your GP knows you are in hospital. As the FGM cutting season comes round, it matters that we know if someone has been to several A&E departments. We know we can prevent re-admission to hospital if we get rapid home input. Or if we can connect a care home team with a specialist physician, or GP. Before we think about moving staff or even moving services, let’s get that data moving. For SWBH that starts with the infrastructure investment to stabilise technology support between now and Christmas. This is, of course, part of our long term plan, helping now to solve future problems, as we get ready to use voice and digital technology in how we provide care in the future.

The care basics are always at the heart of what we are trying to do here. The CQC told us last autumn that we had work to do. Our own, and others, work reinforces that message. This week new shower chairs (special chairs that resist water damage) go into action. All our cleaner’s carriages are now on a decontamination cycle to be deep cleaned routinely. And we are even piloting going back to porcelain plates because they go better through the dishwasher. It is a ‘no stone unturned’ message when it comes to cleanliness, and even as we battle with Victorian buildings for another 150 weeks, we know that we have to get the team-work right to get our equipment and facilities to be the very best they can be. Like most things at the Trust, that is usually true. Our challenge, as always, is making it consistently true.

Whilst developing services across the Black Country for a million people seems to be a different conversation, that intent to raise standards and make things consistently better, lies at the heart of everything in this blog. Except perhaps our victory in the annual cricket match against GP colleagues! Though we have now won two years in a row that is perhaps more down to luck, than tackling variation. Nonetheless, as we talk about and act on our values of collaboration, it is reassuring that some competitive instinct remains. Best of both.