Welcome to my first column of 2019, bringing you up to date with what’s happening with your local NHS.
This month I will be giving you an update on hospital visiting restrictions, providing advance notice of our governor elections, and will be telling you more about the exciting opportunities on offer for apprenticeships in our trust.
While the mild spell of a couple of weeks ago was hopefully a sign that spring is on its way, we are under no illusions that we are still in the grips of winter.
Winter is always a time when there is more pressure on the National Health Service, and this year has been no different.
Since I last wrote a column for this newspaper in December, the teams in our hospitals and in the community have been very busy caring for patients.
At this time of the year, we tend to see more people who are very sick, for example, those whose long-term condition has been exacerbated by the cold, winter weather.
Over the last few weeks, we have also been treating many patients with flu.
Thankfully, the numbers have fallen and, with effect from last week, we have lifted the partial visitor restrictions that had been in place in our hospitals since mid-December.
This means that the visiting periods have reverted to the original times after being limited to an hour in the afternoon and evening.
There is no doubt that these restrictions, which were put in place early as a result of lessons learned from the previous winter when our hospitals were hit hard by norovirus and flu at the same time, have made a huge difference.
We know that it’s hard to have restrictions on visiting loved ones when they are in hospital and we only implemented them to keep our patients and staff as safe as possible from infection.
In spite of this, we have had nothing but the greatest support from members of the public, and we are hugely grateful for it.
The only exception to the lifting of restrictions is the prohibition on children under 12 visiting our wards, which will remain in force for the time being.
For now, we have taken this decision due to this age group being both very vulnerable to, and the most likely to carry, infections.
We do understand that this can cause difficulties, but we must remain mindful that flu is still circulating in the wider community.
We will, however, keep this under review with a view to lifting it as soon as possible.
Please keep an eye on our website at www.northumbria.nhs.uk for updates on the situation.
While visiting times have returned to normal, reducing the spread of infections is still very important to us at Northumbria Healthcare.
It is good practice for all visitors to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water before entering and upon leaving the ward.
In any case, please do not come onto the ward if you have had symptoms of diarrhoea and/or vomiting in the last 48 hours, or if you have a cough or a cold until you are feeling better.
Nominations will open in a couple of months for our public governor elections.
We will be giving people in this area who are passionate about their local NHS the opportunity to get more involved by putting themselves forward as candidates for election.
There will be three vacancies for public governors in Blyth Valley and four in Wansbeck.
The role of a public governor is to represent the views of local people and to help build links between our trust and communities across Northumberland and North Tyneside.
Duties include holding non-executive directors to account for the performance of the board, reviewing the annual accounts and report, and representing the interests of the public in governance meetings.
We will let people know when nomination forms will be available and when they need to be submitted.
To be in the running to be a public governor, people must be a member of Northumbria Healthcare.
This is done by simply completing an online application form at www.northumbria.nhs.uk/get-involved/join-our-our-foundation-trust or by calling 0191 203 1296.
Our public governors play a hugely important role in our trust.
They are the voice of local people and forge links with the many and varied local communities we serve.
They help us to shape our priorities and to develop local healthcare services.
We would urge anyone with an interest in their local NHS to get involved — you really can make a difference.
To have an informal chat about the role and what’s involved, contact our foundation team on 0191 203 1296.
Look out for more information about this in the local media, on our website and on social media platforms in the next couple of months.
You may have noticed that last week was National Apprenticeship Week.
We took the opportunity to go out and about to promote our apprenticeship opportunities and highlight the benefits of completing an apprenticeship with us.
We certainly live up to this year’s theme of Blaze A Trail, with one of the most established and successful programmes in the NHS.
The trust has an excellent track-record of our apprentices gaining permanent employment and, in fact, as many as 95 per cent of our apprentices go on to secure jobs with our trust or within the wider NHS.
It is all part of growing our own workforce and we’re passionate about opening up opportunities to people across our area.
We’re currently recruiting people to join our business administration and healthcare apprenticeship programmes.
We would encourage people to visit our website to find out more — the deadline for applications is on Tuesday, March 19.
Since my last column, as you will be aware, the Whalton Unit in Morpeth has temporarily relocated to Ward 8 at Wansbeck General Hospital.
This is to ensure that staffing is as resilient as possible for the busy winter period.
We are committed to having an ongoing dialogue with the campaign group and to keeping the local community informed as to next steps.
This will, of course, include sharing the findings of our review of the interim move as soon as we are in a position to do so.
In the meantime, we would like to remind people that if they experience difficulties travelling to visit loved ones in the interim location to contact the ward team on 01670 529008.
We do not want any family to be disadvantaged.