The Chief Executive of County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, Sue Jacques, talks to Peter Barron about a decade of care – and her aspirations for the next ten years

TEN years ago, a crucial decision was taken to fundamentally change the way the then hospital services were managed.

And, when she looks back, Sue Jacques, the chief executive of the County Durham and Darlington NHS Trust, has no doubt that results show it was the right call.

In February 2007, County Durham and Darlington Acute Hospitals Trust was awarded foundation status and became County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust.

“We could see the huge potential in foundation status connecting us with our communities so that local people would play a more active part in helping us identify the priorities for improved care,” says Mrs Jacques, who, back then, was the trust’s finance director before becoming chief executive five years ago.

And, following a decade of care, that vision has become a reality. Under foundation status, the trust has 39 governors from all walks of life and more than 11,000 members anchoring the trust in the communities it serves.

It is an active community foundation for the trust, with members attending events, acting as ambassadors, aiding communication, and having a meaningful say in the running of the organisation.

“With support from members and governors we have completely revolutionised health care in County Durham and Darlington” says Mrs Jacques. “When we look at what we were doing ten years ago, it’s hard to understand how we managed without all the innovations that have been introduced.”

More clinical staff have been employed and some new clinical roles introduced, cutting edge technology has transformed working practices, and staff are encouraged to innovate.

There have, of course, been challenges. The consolidation of accident and emergency services in Darlington and Durham caused understandable concern in Bishop Auckland, and yet since that change there is now more activity at Bishop Auckland Hospital than ever: a centre of excellence for orthopaedic surgery, a cataract centre, rehabilitation centre, expanded outpatients’ department, and a pioneering simulation centre that is leading the way in the training of staff.

Similarly, the consolidation of stroke care in Durham has proved to be successful. The extra “blue light” travel time from Darlington and Bishop Auckland is more than made up for by the greater focus and expertise at Durham, making diagnosis and treatment significantly quicker, with better outcomes for patients as a result.

More recently, the launch last December of the Acute Intervention Team, a new way of providing enhanced round the clock care for our most poorly patients on the Durham and Darlington sites, represented an investment of just shy of £1m and it is already producing highly encouraging results.

“The concept of such a team was something that was driven clinically and, which our Board instinctively knew it was the right thing to do, and simply had to find the money to support,” says Mrs Jacques.

The chief executive cannot praise more highly the commitment of everyone in the organisation in ensuring a culture that puts patients at the heart of everything.

She cites the four “touchstones” as being pivotal in guiding decision making within the trust:

• ‘Best outcomes’: Improved clinical outcomes

• ‘Best experience’: A better patient experience

• ‘Best employer’: Giving staff the best opportunities for personal development

• ‘Best efficiency’: And ensuring that there is maximum value for every pound spent

As Mrs Jacques reflects on a decade of care, she is proud of the work that has been done to improve the care of patients and how colleagues are continually striving to drive up standards and the quality of care as well as the patient experience.

One of her greatest satisfactions is what she calls the coming together of “Team CDDFT” – and the tremendous efforts of a workforce dedicated to success. “Our strength comes from our greatest asset – our 8,000 plus CDDFT colleagues – and from working in partnership with the Clinical Commissioning Groups and GPs.”

And, although she is well aware that there will be further challenges, she is excited about the decade ahead.

“We are on the cusp of so many new initiatives and developments that will take us to another level,” she says.

These include new, state-of-the-art operating theatres and embedding further technological advances across the trust.

That represents significant investment but the success of the NHS has always depended on a partnership with local people and a public appeal has recently been launched to raise £2.5m to buy advanced MRI scanners for Darlington Memorial Hospital and Bishop Auckland Hospital.

The Rotary Club, which raised £12,000 to build a children’s ward when Darlington Memorial Hospital opened in 1933, is again at the forefront of the fundraising campaign.

“We are extremely grateful for the charitable donations we have received throughout our history and our hope now is to challenge that benevolence so that the public can help us buy these new scanners which will revolutionise radiology,” says Mrs Jacques.

“We want to be a responsible part of the communities we serve and we want those communities to help us go on improving health care – because we really are all in it together.”

• If you would like to make a donation to the MRI appeal, you can visit the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust Charity ‘justgiving’ website at: https://www.justgiving.com/cddft marking your donation ‘MRI appeal.