North East hospital trusts to share board chair as Great North Healthcare Alliance moves forward

The NHS trusts which run the RVI and NSECH at Cramlington will share a board chair
-Credit: (Image: Newcastle Chronicle)

Two of the North East's biggest NHS trusts will share a board chair - but this "will not change their organisational independence".

Sir Paul Ennals is to become the interim joint chair of the boards of directors at both the Newcastle Hospitals NHS Trust and the Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust from July. Sir Paul has previously been chair at Northumbria since September 2023.

He will hold the interim joint role as a temporary measure, with a permanent appointment made in "autumn/winter 2024". Prof Kath McCourt had served as interim chair of the Newcastle trust - which runs the Freeman and Royal Victoria Infirmary hospitals - since January, taking over on an interim basis from leading geneticist Professor Sir John Burn.

Along with Sir James Mackey - the chief executive at Newcastle who took the job after many years in the same role at Northumbria at the beginning of January - Prof McCourt has led the trust's response to a damning Care Quality Commission inspection report. The CQC downgraded the trust to "requires improvement" following a series of inspections in 2023.

The CQC had found a "significant deterioration" in leadership at the previously "outstanding"-rated trust. Sir James' predecessor Dame Jackie Daniel left post at the end of December 2023. The CQC had also identified how some staff felt there was a "culture of bullying" and inspectors had spoken to more than 60 whistleblowers.

This move comes amid the formation of an organisation known as the Great North Healthcare Alliance - including the two trusts operating north of the Tyne along with Gateshead Health and the North Cumbria Integrated Care trust based at Carlisle. This idea is hoped to improve healthcare "pathways" for patients and build on existing collaboration.

Sir Paul will formally become joint chair of the two hospital boards later in July following the annual meeting of the Northumbria Healthcare trust. One of of the Northumbria Healthcare trust board's non-executive directors - Bernie McCardle will also support colleagues at Newcastle - they will chair the latter trust's people committee.

The Northumbria trust runs hospitals across Northumberland and North Tyneside. These include the Northumbria Specicalist and Emergency Care Hospital along with North Tyneside, Hexham and Wansbeck district general hospitals.

A Gateshead non-executive will also chair the Newcastle trust's quality committee. There have been a number of departures from the Newcastle trust's board in recent months.

In a statement online, the Northumbria NHS Trust wrote: "As part of our drive to work more closely with other foundation trusts in the Great North Care Alliance, our board of directors have agreed several temporary measures to support our partners at Newcastle Hospitals."

The trust also reference Sir Paul's interim appointment and added: "It’s important to say this will not change the organisational independence of either trust, but we hope by helping support our neighbours in Newcastle, we can ensure patients right across the region can get the best possible care.

"This move is reflective of the ambition of local health providers to work more closely as an alliance, which we believe has huge potential to deliver significant benefits to our patients and the staff within our own organisations and in the wider North East and North Cumbria."

An update provided to the Newcastle Hospitals NHS Trust's last public board meeting, held in May, laid out six elements of the alliance's "overarching vision". This included improving patient outcomes by "optimising and simplifying existing pathways" and "jointly tackling service resilience issues".

The document presented also highlighted plans to improve staff experience, take part in "pioneering innovation" and to have an "improved and sustainable financial positition with value for public money that maximises resources for front-line care".