A New Year message from Peter Axon

Christmas and New Year is a traditional time for Charles Dickens, and as we look back on 2020 and forward to 2021, his famous opening to A Tale of Two Cities published over 160 years ago in 1859 has never seemed so apt.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

I want to take this moment to thank each and every one of you for all you have done throughout this extraordinary year for each other, for our Trust and for the communities, families and people we serve.

​During the worst of times, you have displayed the very best we can be.  And as we continue together to rise to the challenge of this dark Winter, I genuinely believe we can look forward to a Spring of hope.

One reason for this, of course, is the news just yesterday of approval for the Astra Zenica vaccine.  Our staff and fellow NHS colleagues, particularly in primary care and at UHNM, have been moving heaven and earth to deliver the initial Pfizer vaccine to as many vulnerable people as possible and it has enabled us to begin to take the very first steps to vaccinate our own staff.  The AZ news will give us the opportunity to ensure our front line teams have greater access to vaccination early in the New Year.  We will, of course, be able to give everyone further details of our plans for roll out in due course.

In the meantime, I thought it might be worth taking a step back and looking at some of the highlights of what we have achieved during the year ending today, as well as looking at some of the fantastic plans and progress we have coming up the rails to make 2021 a truly memorable year for Combined Healthcare for all the right reasons.

​Have a great New Year and see you all in 2021!



Of course, the year has been dominated by Covid-19.  And your response to this unprecedented medical and organisational challenge has been nothing short of magnificent.  Together we have not only risen to the challenge, but in many ways, we have changed and improved how we work in ways that will last long after the current times have faded.


Just a few of the highlights include:

  • working together at speed to identify, prioritise and maintain our ‘critical’ services throughout the year;
  • transforming the ways we deliver all of our frontline and back office services, harnessing in real-time new technologies, new techniques and new ways of remote and dispersed working  – including mobile messaging, video conferencing, telephone and video consultations and of course MS Teams;
  • deploying support materials, guidance and advice – as well as new online support and counselling services – to ensure we have protected the health and wellbeing of our staff – one of the most important duties of the Trust;
  • applying additional measures to protect our staff from BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) backgrounds during the coronavirus pandemic, in response to reports from Public Health England which show that these groups of people are more likely to be adversely affected by COVID-19;
  • moving significant parts of our business from a largely buildings and desk-based operation to virtual and cloud-based;
  • equipping scores of teams with the most up-to-date laptops and mobile devices to facilitate federated working;
  • significantly reducing our carbon footprint through slashing the number of car journeys needed to get our people to work; 
  • introducing Exec Drop-Ins Online to maintain the momentum and welcome for our new Exec Drop-In face to face sessions;
  • creating new and innovative digital communications and engagement channels and tools – many of them unique in the NHS – including “Ask the Board Online”, Patient Story Plus and our new Digital Avatars; and
  • introducing enhanced service user risk assessment processes to ensure we maximise the effectiveness of our service offer. 

The sheer range of things we have done is so vast I could provide a list a mile long and still not capture it all.  But sometimes the things our staff say to each other is more powerful than any words a Chief Executive is able to provide.  In that vein, you might really enjoy spending a few moments with a cup of tea or coffee looking through the fantastic tributes and messages of support and recognition we have provided to each other through our “Combined United” facility on our website – which is still available and open to any of you to post further tributes and items of recognition for your teams and colleagues.   You can click here to see it all.

And, as we all know, a picture or film says a thousand words.  You might also wish to cast your mind back to early April, when we all came together to deliver a truly moving act of solidarity and support for our frontline colleagues on Ward 7 – one of the first of many, many times our staff had to cope with the most acute of challenges in delivering care.   The continuing and unwavering spirit of solidarity and support for each other epitomised early on in this gesture is something which I have been proud to witness throughout all parts of the Trust week in week out to this day.


One of the hallmarks of an Outstanding organisation like Combined Healthcare is that, even in the toughest of times, its commitment and performance to excellence continues across a whole range of activities.  So I think it’s also worth noting some other notable achievements we have delivered together during 2020, including:

  • the best ever response from our staff to the NHS Staff Survey;
  • a record take-up of flu vaccinations;
  • the highest ever number of entries in our annual REACH staff awards;
  • our All Age Mental Health Access Team, Crisis Care Centre being named the Regional Champion in the ‘Excellence in Mental Health Care’ category of the Parliamentary Awards;
  • our “Combined Race Forward” initiative shortlisted for the NHS Workplace Race Equality Award at the 2020 HSJ Awards;
  • our collaboration with Vancouver’s Cognetivity Neurosciences Ltd to deploy its Integrated Cognitive Assessment (ICA) within our care pathway for patients with suspected dementia – the first use of the ICA within the NHS;
  • singled out  by the NHS Regulator – the Care Quality Commission – as an example for others to learn from in how to sustain improvements in high quality care and performance after receiving the CQC’s highest possible rating – Outstanding – in its keynote Report – “Sustaining Improvement”; and
  • launching on behalf of the entire Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire system the first national pilot of the NHS High Potential Scheme to promote and support outstanding talent.

All of these achievements and many more are a lasting testament to the brilliance and dedication of everyone working in and with us.



As we look ahead into 2021, there are two hugely significant developments which I want to highlight.  On both of these, we will be engaging extensively and imaginatively right from the start of the year with you – our staff – and all of our stakeholders.

The first is our long term Trust strategy – agreed by the Board and launched a few weeks ago.  We will shortly be setting out a series of events and opportunities for everyone to make a contribution, ask questions and give us insights into how they can be involved in its implementation and translating its vision and aims into concrete outcomes and improvements.

The second is the development and deployment of the fantastic announcement of a record £15 million investment in our acute and community services. The results of this record investment will begin next year and continue until 2025.  We have already begun discussions internally about the best way to maximise the benefits of this huge vote of confidence in our Trust and its people.

You can find out more details about each of these developments by clicking on the images below.




I would really like to emphasise to you all the full range of health and wellbeing resources we have available for all our staff, as well as the wider range of methods we have for anyone to raise and questions or concerns – completely confidentially if necessary.

Our core message to everyone during these challenging times is simple – you are not alone and we are here to help and support you in whatever way you need.

In particular:

  • there are a full range of health and wellbeing advice, resources, tools and tips available for free to you via the Health and Wellbeing pages on our website;
  • if you have a practical question or wish to raise an issue about specific working arrangements, you can speak to your Line Manager or send an e-mail to the dedicated Covid-19 e-mail address;
  • if you have any concerns at all for your own wellbeing or need to speak to someone, confidentially if necessary, you can access either the national confidential NHS staff support helpline or our own staff counselling services via the numbers on our Speak to Someone webpage;
  • If you have any concerns about safety or working practices and you wish to raise them confidentially, you can either contact our Freedom To Speak Up Guardian or directly and entirely confidentially with myself via the Dear Peter website