So much to be proud of

Last week I carried out one of the most important of my annual legal duties as your Chief Executive. That is to sign off our Annual Accounts and draft Annual Report, once they had been cleared by our Audit Committee and in time for them to be submitted by the national legal deadline to NHS Improvement.

That all sounds very dry and technical, but one of the things it enables us to do as an organisation is to take a breath and look back on an incredible year of achievement by our Trust, all of the staff who work for us and all they do.  

I was deeply proud to have signed and submitted them on our staff’s behalf, to thank you them for what they have done over the past year and all they continue to do. Just look at what I was able to say.

I was able to report that we had balanced our books and achieved financial surplus - for the 18th consecutive year. In the middle of one of the most financially challenging times for the NHS, that is a simply superb achievement and makes us one of the top financial performers in the region. And I was able to report 100% achievement of our Commissioning for Quality and Innovation (CQUIN) quality objectives.

I was able to report that the Care Quality Commission (CQC) rated Combined Healthcare as a Good Organisation – with 10 out of 11 of our services rated as ’Good’ or ‘Outstanding’. That we remained in the lowest of the CQC’s risk bandings – meaning we are among the trusts with the lowest level of concern according to the CQC. And that we were also honoured to be told by CQC that they consider us to be the fastest improving mental health trust in the country.

I was able to report that our dementia diagnostic rate for people aged over 65 living in Stoke-on-Trent is the highest in the West Midlands. And that our improving access to psychological therapies (IAPT) recovery rate is the highest in the NHS Midlands and East region.   

I was able to report that, following extra investment from commissioners, our Children and Young People’s directorate has resulted in children being assessed within 18 weeks for a CAMHS assessment – and that waiting times for children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) have also significantly reduced.

I was able to report that the integration of consultant-level clinical psychology support within our Adult Mental Health Inpatient ward teams has led to a far more effective service for patients. That the work of the Learning Disability directorate to redesign their core adult services has led to a reduction in inpatient bed numbers and a decrease in the average length of stay for new admissions.

I was able to report that we continue to strengthen the voice and true partnership with people who use our services and the development of a service user engagement strategy. We are delighted that service users are participating in our recruitment and staff induction processes. I was able to report that our Service User and Carer Council and our Children and Young People IAPT Youth Council are going from strength to strength. 

I was able to report that our NHS Staff Survey shows improvement in three-quarters of scores, with none in significant decline. We have launched our Behaviours Framework, co-designed with our staff and service users – to ensure we live our values in all we do. Our Leadership Academy to develop our staff to deliver high quality services, focussing on personal development with masterclasses as well as organisational development – with key priorities being areas we need to strengthen to achieve our vision of ‘To be outstanding’. Whilst the new academy is focussing on those in a more senior leadership role, we are also prioritising development for all of our staff with a range of personal development offers. The importance we attach to compassion is reinforced by the leading role we are playing in a dedicated Leading with Compassion scheme which is now spanning across the West Midlands and has been shortlisted for a national award by the Healthcare People Management Awards (HPMA).

Looking forward, I was able to report that we continue to promote new partnerships and new models of care.  We are proud to play a leading role in a new alliance of health and care providers to design, deliver and transform health and care services in North Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent. The new body, known as the “North Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent MCP Alliance” is a bold initiative – drawing together leaders of hospital services, community services, GP practices and local government – to bring about radical improvements and new partnerships that deliver the best possible services to patients and their families. Patients, service users and the voluntary sector will have a powerful voice and influence over the decisions taken by the new body. 

We continue to develop our strong and deepening partnership with the North Staffordshire GP Federation. This has included creating a joint appointment between our own Executive Team and the North Staffordshire GP Federation – including our new joint Director of Strategy and Development, Andrew Hughes and plans for further joint posts.

All of the above and much more has been achieved over the past year by our staff and teams. They deserve so much thanks for all they do and continue to do for the people and local communities we serve. They really do make me proud to be Combined’s Chief Executive. 

On a personal note, last week continued to be difficult as I needed to travel back and forwards to support my step dad who was in hospital in Wales. We had a particularly difficult 48 hours when a diagnosis had been given that probably was misinterpreted by my mum. This was a lesson to me about the importance of communication and health professionals needing to check back that the message they have given has been received. It has been such a support to me to feel I was surrounded by such a compassionate team who offered to support me during the week and helped me to focus on my family as well as work. I really felt we were living our values!

Last week we spent a day away from the office very ably hosted by Growthpoint for an Executive away day. These are important days that we can take stock and discuss the challenges and opportunities we are experiencing and plan collectively the way forward. Last time we went to Growthpoint it was the winter and was freezing cold, this time it was lovely to be able to sit out in the lovely gardens – thanks to Tracey Mace and Geoff Yardley for looking after us so well.

LGBT Focus Group on 7 June

I am delighted we will be holding our first LGBT Focus Group on Wednesday 7 June in the ECT Suite at Harplands Hospital. We are thrilled that Abby Crawford from the LGBT charity Stonewall will be facilitating the session, which will review the experience we offer to our LGBT service users and colleagues, highlight good practice and identify where improvements can be made. Achieving true equality for LGBT patients and staff in healthcare will require us to think differently about how services are provided, managed and delivered. Please take the time to attend one of the following sessions:

  • Session 1: 11am-12pm – Focussing on our service provision and the quality of experience we offer at the Trust to our LGBT service users (there will be a refreshment break from 12-12.30pm).
  • Session 2: 12.30-1.30pm – Focussing on the quality of experience we offer at the Trust to our LGBT colleagues

You can find out more and book your place by emailing