Black Country NHS trusts work together to develop five-year improvement plan

Two Black Country NHS trusts have collaborated and developed a five-year strategy plan for future improvements.

The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust (RWNT) and Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust (WHNT) have focused on reducing waiting times, supporting staff, and closing the gap in health inequalities for the local communities as part of a joint strategy to lay out their priorities over the next five years.

Their joint vision is “to deliver exceptional care together to improve the health and wellbeing of our communities” and they now have a collective set of strategic aims they have dubbed the four Cs: care, colleagues, collaboration, and communities.

The trusts have worked together since 2021 and it is hoped that the new strategy will continue to reflect a close working relationship between the trusts under the leadership of Professor David Loughton CBE and Professor Steve Field CBE.

The strategy begins by acknowledging that “the communities of Wolverhampton and Walsall that we primarily serve often have poorer health outcomes than the nation as a whole and are characterised by some of the highest levels of deprivation.”

 It goes on to highlight the challenges facing the trusts, and how the diversity of each community can help the understanding of how health inequalities affect and influence healthcare plans and strategies. It explains: “As integrated providers of acute, community and primary care services we have the opportunity to effect change across the entire patient journey.”

Here, we will examine each of its strategic aims covered by the four Cs, taking specific focus on how they will work together.

Collaborating trusts

Following the introduction of the new Health and Care Act (2022), new structures for how health and care sectors were set out with strong emphasis on collaborations between organisations.

In the new strategy, RWNT and WHNT acknowledge that it is “expected that this collaboration will ultimately lead to an improvement in the care we deliver to our patients by delivering services in a more seamless and impactful fashion”.

In addition to the close working relationship between the two trusts already in existence, they identified other objectives that will be able to measure the impact the collaboration efforts will have on the delivery of health and care.

The strategy highlights the core purpose of both trusts, to improve the health of their communities. It notes that working as part of the provider collaborative to improve the population health outcome can have a greater impact on resident and service user outcomes.

Another aim is to improve clinical service sustainability and implement new care models, and the trusts note that collaborative working is expected to have an impact here too: “One of the benefits anticipated from working together is an improvement in service sustainability across the Black Country.”

RWNT and WHNT also want to work with technology providers who “are able to support an improvement in our patient’s experience and reduce the demand on our hospitals”. By working together with those providers, the trusts want to ensure that patients can remain at home for as long as possible to make sure their patient journey is as good as it could be if they were admitted into the hospitals.

The trusts acknowledges that further work with other local hospitals across Wolverhampton and Walsall can lead to replicable results when improving service user outcomes. The strategy explains: “We are confident that some of our individual and collective challenges can be better faced together”, and details that an existing programme is already in place. This programme is expected this to increase in use over the next five years as part of this collective strategy.

The final objective in this area is to encourage research that can expand and introduce new knowledge for patient experience, and overall improve patient care and outcomes. Explaining that “research and Innovation is a core component of trusts’ activity and is key to making advancements in patient care”, it goes on to explain that clinical research is an essential part of improving patient care and that understanding which treatments work best, it can have a positive impact on the patient journey and working together to improve patient outcomes.

Working with communities

The strategy explains that the trusts’ service users extend beyond those who are admitted for treatment in the hospitals. They express an intention to work more closely with the voluntary sector and members of the local authorities to further understand population health outcomes.

The trusts recognise their own importance in influencing the local communities, saying, “We recognise the positive influence we can bring to bear. We can choose to spend our budget and employ locally, which will positively impact our communities and local economy.”

The strategy sets out three main objectives with regards to how RWNT and WHNT will be able to measure their success in this aim. Firstly, they identify a need to develop a strategy for understanding health inequalities and the actions each trust can take to address these, stating a plan to work with local authorities for the strategy’s development.

Secondly, the trusts commit to significantly reducing their clinical service carbon footprint by 1 April 2025, and explain how they hope that this will benefit the health of residents and service users over a long period of time.

Thirdly, the trusts will work with place-based partners to deliver improvements to the immediate community. “By working with our partners within our communities, we will strive to empower people to live a healthy life for as long as possible,” the strategy states. The trusts seek to join up the health, care and community support that is already available for residents and individual communities, to work collaboratively together towards a bigger impact on community health and to directly involve the RWNT and WHNT within their communities.

Delivery of care and colleague support

In addition to the work focusing on collaboration between the trusts and wider communities, the strategy highlights planned work in the areas of care and colleagues.

The trusts have identified objectives such as creating a culture of learning and continuous improvement across all levels of the organisation. Through this, they hope to “support our colleagues by equipping them with the tools to systematically learn, measure and monitor quality at all levels of the organisations.”

Another objective is the prioritisation of cancer patient treatment, which both trusts have identified as “one of the highest clinical priority groups of patients are those on a cancer pathway”. By doing this, the trusts hope to achieve their ambition of diagnosing cancer at an earlier stage to give a better impact on the patient’s outcome.

With regards to supporting staff, the strategy sets out objectives to be in the top quartile for vacancy levels and to ensure that retaining staff in a priority for both trusts.

They also aim to deliver yearly improvement on the percentage of staff who consider both trusts to have taken positive actions for their own health and wellbeing. Having identified that staff wellbeing can and will have an impact on the level of care they can deliver, the trusts have pledged to continuously make efforts to improve how this is addressed. They will continuously use NHS staff surveys to monitor the impact of their actions.

Alongside this, another objective is to improve staff engagement and identify areas of improvement where staff groups are less engaged. The strategy states: “We want to create an environment where staff feel empowered and supported to make decisions and deliver change.”

Professor Loughton CBE, Chief Executive of RWNT, praised the strategy: “We have a lot to be proud of and to be excited by. We have two fantastic trusts working hard to improve the health and wellbeing of our communities, as well as provide healthcare.”

He added, “This is our first joint strategy since we started working closely together. So far, closer working has proven many benefits for our communities, and we hope to strengthen that.”

The full strategy can be read here.