A great facility for patients’ rehabilitation close to home

The Whalton Unit, Northumbria Healthcares specialist inpatient facility, on the first floor of Foxton Court.
The Whalton Unit, Northumbria Healthcares specialist inpatient facility, on the first floor of Foxton Court.
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Welcome to the first of regular matron columns in the Morpeth Herald that aim to bring you up to date with developments with NHS services in Morpeth.

This first column is about the care we deliver at the Whalton Unit. However, before we get into that I’ll start with a little bit about me.

Inspectors said staff went the extra mile to be supportive to assist patients over and above routine tasks.

I have been a nurse for almost 30 years, with a wide range of experience, and a matron for the last eight at Northumbria Healthcare, working in community hospitals in Northumberland.

For the last five years I’ve overseen hospital services in Morpeth. Until recently this was alongside Alnwick Infirmary, however, I now cover Rothbury Community Hospital instead.

You may recall that there was a public consultation into the future of health services in the Morpeth area in 2007 and a number of improvements have been implemented since.

In 2013, we opened our new Morpeth NHS Centre, which incorporates outpatient and diagnostic services, community services and two of the town’s GP practices all under one roof s – something which is helping us to greatly improve the way we join up services.

Today, I wanted to talk about the specialist inpatient care we provide from the Whalton Unit, which opened in 2009. The unit is based on the first floor of the Helen McArdle Care home Foxton Court, and although we share this space, the Whalton Unit operates like a normal community hospital ward like anywhere else in the trust.

Whereas this may be unheard of in other parts of the country, in our trust it is quite common. Our specialist palliative care unit at North Tyneside General Hospital, for example, is based on the first floor of another Helen McArdle facility, which is in the grounds of the hospital. We find this works well for our patients and shows the good links we have with fellow care organisations.

The Whalton Unit provides specialist rehabilitation and support for mostly frail, elderly patients. This can be following emergency treatment in our Northumbria hospital, or another hospital in the area.

Even though the quick senior decision-making and round-the-clock access to diagnostics at our Northumbria hospital has meant that more people are able to go straight home after their emergency admission, there are still many, particularly the frail and elderly, who need extra support and rehabilitation before they’re ready to go home.

It’s great to have a facility like this in Morpeth to enable people from the town and surrounding area to receive rehabilitation in their own community, often close to family and friends.

The unit has 30 single en-suite rooms, which improves patients’ privacy and dignity, and is particularly important when a patient is approaching the end of their life. Providing palliative care is a big part of what the ward does and it means so much to patients and their families to be able to spend their last days in familiar surroundings.

The multi-disciplinary hospital team works closely with our community and social care colleagues as one big team to benefit our patients and make sure everything is in place to ensure they have the support they need to manage at home.

We pride ourselves on providing integrated care to enable patients to experience a smooth transition between hospital and home. In fact, Northumberland is leading the way nationally when it comes to delivering joined-up care outside of hospital as more care is now being delivered by health and care staff who can safely look after people in the comfort of their own surroundings.

It is the success of this work, thanks to our long-standing partnership with Northumberland County Council, that we are leading national work to integrate care even further as a ‘vanguard’ site. We’re also seen as one of the best in the country when it comes to discharging older people from hospital in a safe and timely manner.

This is just one of the many plaudits we’ve had for the services we provide, including the overall ‘outstanding’ rating for our trust by the Care Quality Commission following a rigorous inspection in November 2015.

Every member of staff in our trust – from my team working in Morpeth and colleagues in other community hospitals to those caring for emergency patients in the Northumbria hospital – played a part in this rating and should be rightly proud.

Like all other hospitals and community sites within our trust, the Whalton Unit was subject to the same intense scrutiny from the inspection team. Overall the unit was rated ‘good’, and there were dozens of positives in the report, with staff coming in for high praise.

Inspectors said staff went the extra mile to be supportive to assist patients over and above routine tasks and ensure that patients were fully included in all decision-making regarding their health and wellbeing. They chatted to patients and they said staff were respectful of their wishes, privacy and dignity, and provided good quality care and support.

Patients also said the unit was very clean, staff were very quick at answering the call bells and praised the involvement of the occupational therapists and physiotherapists.

Patient feedback regarding the quality of food was also very high, with no negative comments. Inspectors noted that when one of our patients wanted a specific meal, our chef went to the shop for the ingredients — a great example of going above and beyond the call of duty for our patients.

Before I sign off, I’d like to thank people who came along to our roadshows that we held at the beginning of the month, which were part of our rolling programme of engagement activity which takes place across Northumberland and North Tyneside next month.

We visited Morpeth on Saturday, October 8 and it was great to talk to people about their experiences of our services. Gathering people’s feedback is really important to us – it’s our way of ensuring that we continually improve the care that we provide.

On that note I’d like to finish on this month’s patient experience results for the Whalton Unit.

Like every ward in the trust, the patient experience team visits our unit every month to speak to patients about their care, asking questions about what matters most to them, such as kindness and compassion, respect and dignity and being involved.

We do this while patients are with us so if any issues are highlighted we can let staff know straight away and, most importantly, do something about it. This is known as collecting ‘real-time’ data and is a key part of our patient experience programme, which is seen as one of the most comprehensive in the NHS.

It is credit to the whole team that 100% of patients surveyed would recommend the ward to family and friends, with top marks in many areas and some excellent comments.

While these results are fantastic, we continue to strive to do even better for our patients and their families and provide the highest quality of care.