Chief Executive Stakeholder newsletter – January 2024

Hello all,

January is one of the busiest months of the year for the NHS and this year has been no different. From beginning the year with industrial action by junior doctors, to managing higher levels of winter infections, and extreme pressures on our emergency services and our beds.

Despite the pressures we have faced, I have received a number of messages of thanks from patients we have treated. This included a patient brought into our ED for lifesaving care, who thanked the amazing teams who cared for her over Christmas and New Year for not only saving her life, but for the invaluable support given to her family during a difficult time. Another patient expressed gratitude to his clinical teams for the first-class treatment he received and the tremendous support post-discharge. While I know there will be cases where our care sadly didn’t meet the expectations of our patients and we will learn from these as a Trust, these notes of thanks are a vital boost to morale at a challenging time of year.

Our services

Industrial action

In December and January, we saw two periods of industrial action either side of the Christmas and New Year bank holidays, which put significant pressure on Trust services.

In preparation, we stepped up our public facing communications - including increasing our social media and local media activity - signposting people to all the alternative care options available locally. While we were able to deliver safe patient care throughout and learned some positive lessons about future models of care, the prolonged period of this industrial action will continue to have an impact on services beyond this month as we work on recovering our appointments in areas such as outpatients and cancer care.

Winter pressures

In the first month of 2024 we saw extreme pressures on our services, especially in emergency care. While we worked closely with our system partners to ease the pressure points in critical care, mental health, discharges and ambulance handovers - our hospital was in a significantly challenged position. This included more than 120 patients with no criteria to reside, more patients waiting in our Emergency Department for a mental health bed, and higher than normal levels of seasonal infections such as Norovirus - which affected several wards and made the flow of patients around our hospital more difficult. Alongside reiterating our infection control guidance for staff, patients and visitors, we took a number of proactive steps to manage the operational pressures across our services and ensure patient safety.

Waiting lists

Despite the impact of industrial action and winter pressures, this month we also remained focused on reducing 78-week waiting lists by the end of March in line with national NHS plans, and are currently carrying out a review as to how we can better utilise our theatres to deliver this work.

Our partners

Mobile Diagnostic Unit

Since 2022 we have been working with our partners on the Crawley Programme, which focuses on increasing access to diagnostic tests for the population of Crawley. As a part of this work, next month we will be launching an exciting new pilot Mobile Diagnostics Unit. This will give GPs another option for local referrals and easier and timely access for patients requiring a number of respiratory, physiological diagnostic tests. The pilot scheme, run in partnership with Alliance for Better Care (ABC), has the potential to save hundreds of Crawley residents from travelling to East Surrey Hospital over the next six months.

Surrey Provider Collaborative

The Trust Provider Collaborative, which supports Trusts to work in partnership for better local patient care, met earlier this month. Key highlights included an update on the Surrey Heartlands Elective Centre, which is expected to open later this year, and updates on our new joint endoscopy network, which will help transform patient experience – including increasing screening and supporting earlier diagnosis of cancer.

Sussex Transfer of Care Hubs

Meanwhile, to complement the work of Let’s Get You Home, NHS Sussex have developed a transfer of care hub model that brings together hospital discharge teams with wider discharge support from across the system to ensure better flow of information and data, as well as a shared accountability for discharge which will help support better patient experience. We look forward to supporting this work with our partners as it progresses.

Investing in the future of healthcare

In January, the Postgraduate Dean for Health Education England Kent, Surrey and Sussex visited the Trust to meet with our Chief Medical Officer and Chief of Education, as well as doctors in training. Alongside a number of positive observations, the visit gave us a good chance to reflect on some of the urgent actions we need to take to support our doctors in training – including ensuring that they gain the right balance of experience across different clinical environments.

I also met with the Chief Executive of East Surrey College about the apprenticeship offers and T-level qualifications they provide, and I am really keen that we continue to invest in our development prospects and support East Surrey College to provide opportunities for local young people to gain healthcare experience.

Trust news

Florence Nightingale Foundation Academy

Through the leadership of Tina Hetherington, our Chief Nurse, the Trust is now a proud member of the Florence Nightingale Foundation Academy. This means that student nurses, nurses or midwives can now access exclusive learning, events, and career opportunities through an online engagement platform – all of which contribute to building up their professional development. This is not just great news for our staff, but also supports our Trust to deliver better patient care.

Recruiting Nursing Assistants

Nursing Assistants play an incredibly valuable role in improving patient care and experience at SASH, and over the last few months we have been taking urgent action to recruit to a significant number of nursing assistant vacancies across our Trust. In November 2023, we held an open day where over 50 nursing assistant positions were offered, with another 35 positions offered at our open day last weekend. These recruitment events are not only important for our role as a local employer, but vital for our patients and supporting our staff to deliver the best care possible.

Green Plan

As a trust, we continue to deliver on our Green Plan goals and drive forward improvements that support our local community, as well as the carbon reduction targets for the NHS. This month we also reflected on how far we have come in year two of our four-year plan – including stepping up our biodiversity and planting more trees on our East Surrey Hospital site, reducing our carbon footprint on medical gases, and implementing our green travel plan. Last month we also rolled out use of unbleached recycled paper at SASH, with plans to extend this to patient communications as soon as possible. You can find out more about our Green Plan here.