Those of you who regularly read my blog will know the COVID-19 pandemic, and what we’re doing to address it, has been a recurring theme. I’ve regularly cautioned against becoming complacent about its effects and the need to continue with all the necessary precautions like masks, social distancing, handwashing etc. if we are to return to ‘normal’ life.

The noise and the discussion about the ‘end of lockdown’ isn’t helpful when set against the reality on our wards and communities as infections continue to rise. The R (reproduction) value is somewhere around 1.3 in England, meaning every 10 people infected will infect 13 others. Unabated, this could lead to a fourth peak in the north west with a 64 percent rate increase. Pressures in the system haven’t gone away and hospitals are suspending most visiting to avoid bringing infections into facilities.

We must remain cautious and we must not become complacent. We’re experiencing unprecedented levels of demand across all services and geographies so all the usual precautions - masks, social distancing, PPE, handwashing, washing clothes and uniform wearing - are as essential as they’ve ever been.

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I want to emphasise that, while it’s easy to forget, we all must observe these rules as we go through this period of increased community transmission of the delta variant. It’s the Trust’s and our own personal responsibility to protect ourselves, patients, and colleagues from infection.

It’s brilliant news that double vaccination is breaking the link between infection and serious symptoms, but please remember there’s still much we don’t know about the other clinical effects of COVID-19 so please don’t be casual about infections. We also know the higher the level of community infection, the more likely that mutant variants of the virus will emerge. We can’t risk one such variant being able to escape the protection provided by vaccination. If we’re really seeking the ‘new normal’, then we each need to continue to follow the simple steps.

As we see improvements in our personal freedoms, let’s make sure those same freedoms last, especially for those who experience the greatest levels of social and health inequality. If you haven’t already been vaccinated, please do so.

 

A mental health pandemic

Another topic, a sadly inevitable one, at the NHS Confederation, was that of the still hidden second pandemic. The effect of COVID on mind as well as body is real and will be with us for a long time. The pandemic has affected people’s confidence, people’s jobs and much more.

As my colleague Dr Jennifer Kilcoyne says in the Trust’s new magazine, anxiety is a bit like a Jenga tower. Every time you avoid doing something that makes you anxious, the tower gets bigger and it gets harder to overcome barriers.

Jennifer talks about carefully easing ourselves back into society in a graded way, perhaps selecting one person to visit and slowly building up. We need to remember to be safe and protect ourselves from the virus. Taking careful steps will help many overcome fears.

It won’t help everyone and there remain many shattered lives, but we can offer help and we’re prepared to deliver as a Trust. It’s a long road ahead and the magazine is a good place to find some gentle steps forward, with help and ideas for mental wellbeing in the pandemic, and much else of interest besides.

 

Armed Forces Week

Our newer members of staff may wish to know that Mersey Care has a long history of supporting current and former members of the armed forces and mark their service this week, which is always set aside for Armed Forces Week. Inevitably, activities will be quieter than previous years but in Liverpool we’ll see the flag flying from the Cunard and Liver Buildings and the Port of Liverpool Building with many civic buildings illuminated in red, white, and blue.

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At Mersey Care we take our obligations to our ex-forces and their families very seriously. Our links with the community in Whalley meant that even in the November pandemic, we were able to carefully commemorate the annual remembrance service there with our friends from the Royal British Legion.

We also have a range of local, confidential services, from talking therapies to help with addictions, which are provided by experienced staff. Many of them are trained in armed forces community awareness or are armed forces community members themselves. They understand, often first hand, the many and complex challenges the armed forces community and their relatives can face, and we strive to deliver our services with understanding, sensitivity, and support.

I recommend our Armed Forces support webpage here, which on our newly redesigned website clearly sets out some excellent information and support for serving members and veterans. There’s a free mobile phone app and details of the Liverpool Veterans HQ ‘one stop shop’ plus much more besides and we’ll also be featuring a range of personal stories online in the days ahead.

Given the extra efforts of the armed forces to also help with the pandemic vaccine, please support the week by liking or reposting our social media posts which will appear regularly across the week on the Trust’s social media channels.

 

Safety culture

Last week I spoke at the NHS Confederation virtual conference on how to create conditions for success. For Mersey Care, that starts with great staff and as chief executive I’m pleased we focus on caring for our staff with training, a supportive HR and wellbeing service and a strong safety culture. People need to feel psychologically secure to do their best work. The restorative just culture we’re pursuing is not an event or an instance, it’s a journey. It’s why we call it a set of practices, it’s something that needs to be worked at and improves the more it’s progressed.

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I occasionally hear from some of you who are aggrieved when something has not quite landed the way you feel it should. Often this is used as evidence restorative just culture doesn’t work. I’d say we’re making real progress if you look at our key indicators, especially over the last couple of years. That we’ve continued to see this work actually flourish in the pandemic is remarkable, but also indicative of the commitment and engagement of great staff, and I truly believe we were more prepared as an organisation for having started our journey when we did.

One of my fellow conference speakers said that if an organisation aspires to be a leader of healthcare in its community, it needs to look and sound like that community otherwise our offer risks not being authentic, and I agree. We’re proud to employ the best local people who know their communities and client groups with a strong instinct as well as professional skills.

I’m proud we’re right where people live their lives and we’re not just seen as ‘the NHS’ but as strong and significant partners in everyday life. We’re going to be starting our Mega Conversations soon, when you get the chance to influence the Trust’s agenda. We can also help foster our own sense of community further as an expanded Trust with diversity, local knowledge and a clear direction.

 

Our brand

As we come together as an expanded organisation, we need to make certain we’re consistent in our branding. It’s always strict and clear when you visit a major business, go shopping or get a letter from your gas or internet supplier. Our communications and estates colleagues have done a fine job getting our building signage sorted out, including reviewing and rebranding all materials used by Southport and Formby community health services and North West Boroughs Healthcare colleagues.

Should any of you, or members of the public for that matter, find anything in current circulation that has outdated logos on, please let the team know via: Communications@merseycare.nhs.uk 

If staff aren’t sure about branding, please look at our guide. It sets out to ensure all written communications from the Trust are presented in a consistent house style. It gives advice about how to develop and write content for all the printed and online material produced, from emails and letters to reports and presentations. Note that former NWBH services staff should continue to use their current interpretation and translation service providers.

 

New friends, new skills

I’ve really enjoyed meeting the wider team, including colleagues from the former trust during our Q&A sessions.

Details of future dates and recordings of all sessions are available on YourSpace. The range of skills and positivity from former North West Boroughs colleagues is very welcome indeed and joins the level of innovation and strengths of the full organisation.

I’d also like to welcome our new head of safeguarding, Sarah Shaw who will work across both adult and children’s safeguarding services. She has a wealth of experience, including in her previous role at NWBH, and knowledge within both NHS and social care organisations, and has held major responsibilities for adults, children and children in care services.

Sarah will be linking closely with colleagues within social care and operations to strengthen our safeguarding understanding, responsiveness and leadership. Let’s offer a warm welcome to her and take the opportunity to wish her every success in this important duty.

 

And finally...

Tomorrow we host our Positive Achievement Awards, which sadly this year won’t involve a party although feel free to dress up if you can for the online ceremony. I know former NWBH colleagues had a great do before the acquisition, and we’ll do another for the wider Trust later this year.

For now, this is a chance for Mersey Care staff pre-June to mark their achievements although everyone’s welcome. The 90 minute ceremony streams from 1.00pm (awards from 1.30pm) on glsr.live/PAA21 (to access, you must paste the link into Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge browsers). The shortlist is impressive and although we can’t give everyone a prize, I’m sending my proudest congratulations upfront to everyone and every team that’s been nominated for an award.

Have a great week and please remember that critical message from earlier – keep your ‘COVID head on’ in work and follow all our IPC guidance.

 

Prof Joe Rafferty CBE

Chief Executive