South Tyneside health boss reflects on pandemic, St Clare's replacement and community spirit as he leaves for pastures new
A senior leader in South Tyneside’s NHS has hailed the borough’s shared energy and community spirit as he prepares to leave for a new regional job.
Matt Brown, Executive Director of Operations at NHS South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), will leave at the end of the year to start a key regional role leading the North East and North Cumbria Provider Collaborative.
He has played an important role in South Tyneside’s NHS since 2017, and will now work with the region’s hospitals to address issues like long waiting lists caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, recruiting more skilled staff and tackling pressures on urgent care services.
Matt highlighted the borough’s Covid response, improvements in mental health services, and a big reduction in smoking during pregnancy as some of the key achievements during his time in the borough.
“We’ve achieved a lot together in the past five years – there’s a really strong shared energy among the NHS, the council, local organisations and the community helping to make these things happen,” he said.
“We should all be proud of our borough’s Covid response – right from the start there was an immense shared effort from practice teams, district nurses, hospital staff, council colleagues, care homes, pharmacists, volunteers and many more.
“South Tyneside was among the first to start vaccinating housebound patients and people in care homes, and that’s had a very real impact in keeping us all safer.
“Our mental health services are now among the best in the country, with initiatives like the healthy minds team, who support young people in schools.
“And we’ve made huge progress in extending physical health checks for people with learning disabilities or severe mental illness, who often find it difficult to raise concerns otherwise.
“For years we have had worryingly high levels of smoking in pregnancy, which causes real harm to babies.
“We tried some different approaches, had a different type of conversation, and the result was a massive reduction in smoking among mums-to-be.
“We also faced a difficult situation when a long-term shortage of trained staff in maternity services meant we had no choice but to make changes.
“I’m pleased to see that the new midwife-led team is getting fantastic feedback from families.”
Matt went on to say: “One of the things I’m most proud of is the work we’ve done to reduce bureaucracy and form-filling, so our clinicians can focus on patients and link closer to local hospitals.
“We’ve had to make some difficult and complex decisions at times.
“Understandably people have strong feelings on some issues and it’s important to respect that. Whatever your view, we are all united in wanting the best for our local services.
“There are challenges ahead, like recruiting skilled health care staff, and tackling the impact of poverty on people’s health in the borough.
“But South Tyneside has a fantastic community spirit, shared energy, and it’s not a group of organisations but a single health and care system, working together with a real shared vision to provide the best care we possibly can.”
During his time at the CCG, Matt helped to develop a new palliative care model for South Tyneside after the charity which ran St Clare’s Hospice collapsed into insolvency.
This included a ‘spoke and hub’ model with a dedicated hospice-style provision at Haven Court on the South Tyneside District Hospital Site and improved community services across the borough.
In light of the Omicron variant, the health boss said it was important for residents to come forward for Covid vaccines and to continue following public health guidance around wearing face coverings and practicing good hygiene.
He added he was confident that South Tyneside residents would “make the right choices to protect themselves and their families.”
Councillor Tracey Dixon, Leader of South Tyneside Council, paid her own tributes to the health chief’s key role during the Covid-19 crisis.
“Matt has proven himself to be a dedicated, passionate individual whose knowledge and commitment have really come to the fore in dealing with the pandemic,” she said.
“His role on the Covid Leadership Board and our partnership working in rolling out the vaccine has undoubtedly saved thousands of lives.
“I am delighted that his new role leading the North East and North Cumbria Provider Collaborative will see our region retaining his expertise.”
Dr Matthew Walmsley, a local GP and the CCG’s Chair, also hailed the role Matt played in “bringing people together and guiding health and care services through an incredibly difficult time.”
“He has been a key part of South Tyneside’s Covid response, and driven the vaccine programme forward, as well as helping to improve many local healthcare services for us all,” Dr Walmsley said.
“In his new role, Matt’s work will still be important to South Tyneside as well as the rest of our region, and we wish him all the very best.”
Matt’s new role will involve supporting NHS trusts in the North East and North Cumbria region, including hospital trusts, mental health and learning disabilities trusts and the ambulance trust.
The health chief said he has learned many lessons in South Tyneside that he will take forward to his regional role, including “collaboration for people and with people.”
Following recent reports of some patients being aggressive to NHS staff, Matt added that tackling such “unacceptable” behaviour would be a key focus going forward.
“I’m so proud of the people who work for the NHS and the people who work with the NHS, our carers, our care home staff, our volunteers. They have been brilliant,” he said.
“I think unfortunately we have seen people become sometimes aggressive towards our staff in recent months. It’s the minority but it’s unacceptable.
“Our staff work extremely hard and long hours and are very dedicated to their patients and we need to show them a great deal of respect for the really tough jobs that they do.
“Our staff have been fantastic and by and large our patients have been fantastic with them.
“But we need to make sure that we all do our bit in making sure that the minority of people who don’t behave acceptably are held to account – and that’s certainly what I aim to do.”