Ups and downs

Welcome to my latest blog. I hope you find it of interest. If not, don’t be afraid to tell me!

It’s been a very busy few weeks with a few ups and downs along the way, including a disastrous trip to London which I’ll tell you about later!  But for now, let’s start on a positive note and talk about our Annual Members Meeting which was held a few weeks ago. There were a few particular stand out highlights at this year’s meeting – one of which was listening to the personal and very powerful stories of Jack Wilson, Governor for Children and Young People’s Services and Lionel Joyce, a mental health pioneer and former Chief Executive of Newcastle Mental Health Services.  Both speakers spoke so candidly about their lives and experiences with mental ill health, including of local NHS services. This provided us all with a real insight as to what it’s like to walk in other people’s shoes.  Another great highlight was the showing of the Hope video developed by peer support workers and other staff. I found it deeply thought provoking and, I don’t mind admitting, personally a bit challenging.

At the end of July I attended a wonderful graduation ceremony to celebrate the remarkable journey and achievement of 11 Project Choice graduates, a scheme which offers young people with a learning difficulty and/or autism the opportunity to learn new skills in a real work environment.  It was a privilege to share in the emotion of listening to the stories, both from the students and their work mentors. It was so inspiring to hear about the next steps into education, training or work many of the graduates are making.

Now, back to my disastrous train journey to London…  I managed to get caught up in all sorts of chaos on trains when I attempted to get to London for a meeting.  On the way to London the train was very delayed, so I ended up missing the meeting that I’d been going there for!  Then, in my attempt to get home, I was thwarted by three sets of damaged train points which meant that only one track was open.  Trains were stacked up for as far as the eye could see (not literally but it definitely felt like it).  I was supposed to get back to Newcastle at 4.50pm and I actually arrived home at 2.45am the next day! So needless to say, I won’t be going back anytime soon unless it’s really unavoidable!

After the awful train trip I felt like I needed a holiday, and lucky for me I already had one booked!  My wife Julie and I both had an enjoyable break from the NHS when we went to Berlin for a week (Julie also works in the NHS).  We visited the Brandenburg Gate where the wall came down in 1989.  There were lots of memorials of life before unification and it was really interesting to see how a city split after World War Two has now been unified. Oh and, by the way, every train and tram arrived on time!

Whilst in a café in Berlin I had the most amazing experience and witnessed the heaviest and longest storm I’ve even seen. It was so heavy it was like someone was standing above you and pouring full buckets of water in front of your eyes.  For over an hour it rained so hard that you couldn’t see people in front of you and Julie and I watched the water quickly fill an empty latte glass on a table outside (sorry, I know it’s a bit of a weird memory to share but it really was amazing).

Back to matters NHS, I had a really enjoyable meeting with a doctor in training who is planning to apply for a consultant post.  I really hope he has applied as he was extraordinarily impressive and would be great for our service users and carers and teams.

Rajesh Nadkarni, our Medical Director and myself attended an Integrated Care Communities (ICCs)  event in Cumbria, where we met with GPs and other health and social care colleagues to consider how best to develop more joined up services at a locality level across the county.  It was clear that there is some really good stuff going on to join up primary care and community services in Cumbria. I’m looking forward to learning more and seeing how we can share good practice on integration across the new Trust.

At our last board meeting we discussed why we have decided to change the trust’s name and to call the new organisation Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust.  We wanted to hold on to the NTW aspect of the name so we could build on our positive reputation and ‘branding’ as well as acknowledging our larger geographical area and welcoming the staff and services in Cumbria to the fold. It also ensures that our name remains alphabetical in order.

And finally, before I sign off, life in the Lawlor household is starting to get back to normal now that our black Labrador puppy (Finn) has at last started to calm down.  It’s been like living with a two year old toddler that is in to everything!  I’m pleased to report that he’s no longer eating my slippers, shoes or skirting boards – or trying to singlehandedly destroy the garden by digging to Australia! 

I hope you’ve managed to have a bit of time off work to recharge your batteries and prepare for the challenges ahead. The Trust continues to move forward and, despite the immense pressures I know some of you are having to deal with, I know together we can continue to do the very best we can for the people we are here to serve.


Five years already!

A few weeks have passed since my last blog post and the summer months seem to be flying by.  As usual I’ve had quite a packed diary and I’ve picked out some of the more memorable moments from the last couple of weeks to share with you.

I recently chaired a senior leaders meeting and we had a very thought provoking discussion about climate change.  I believe that we have a responsibility and an opportunity to limit future harm by acting now.  We have agreed to start a Trust wide conversation about climate change, to gather your thoughts, concerns and ideas about how we can change our current ways of working to be more environmentally friendly. 

I often say how I’m struck by the passion, dedication and professionalism of our staff which gives me hope that, together, we can find the best solutions to the challenges we collectively face, including one of the most pressing around climate change.

I’ve attended a number of meetings last week to prepare for the transfer of North Cumbria services later this year.  It’s fair to say that there are a number of outstanding issues, but we are working closely with our partners in Cumbria to resolve these.

I can’t believe I’ve now been CE at NTW for five years and it’s certainly flown by!  I was recently asked what I love about my job and it’s this – I love just about everything – most of the time!  NTW is a great organisation to be part of with 6,000 outstanding staff, the best executive team I’ve worked with in my career, a highly talented, unified Board, a supportive and challenging Council of Governors, good relationships with partners, but above all, a feeling that we are making a difference to the lives of people who need our help.  Our communications team recently asked me if I’d complete a series of Q&A’s about my life, and embarrassingly (and maybe stupidly?!) I agreed – you can see these here if you’d like to take a look.

At a Medical Staff Committee meeting recently I heard about the great work going on to recruit and retain senior medical staff and we went on to discuss some of the challenges facing the NHS at the moment.  I also travelled to Doncaster for a meeting with Simon Stevens – it was a bit strange (being in the town again, not the meeting) as I worked there as a school teacher over 30 years ago so it proved to be a bit of a trip down memory lane!

I’ve often said how much I enjoy visiting our services and whilst on Roker ward it was wonderful to chat with some of the gentlemen, as well as admiring the flat caps two of them were wearing!  To see the care and support provided on the ward was awe inspiring – the whole team can be rightly proud of what they do.  What was also very noticeable was the excellent facilities and environment, designed with staff, service users and carers, our in-house estates team and our architects.  All in all it was a brilliant visit.

At our recent executive team time out we spent some time thinking through what it might mean if we aspired to be a truly learning organisation in its broadest sense.  We discussed how we could engage with you all and explore what it might look like and how we could build on the strong position we are already in. We agreed to consider this in more depth and then engage more widely over the coming months about how to take things forward.

I attended the North Cumbria System Leadership Board where I had the opportunity to meet with a wide range of colleagues from the NHS, local authorities and third sector organisations.  It was a really good meeting and I could see things that we could learn from, including their shared vision and commitment to partnership working.

Gary O’Hare, Executive Director of Nursing and Chief Operating Officer, and I visited the Control Room at Northumbria Police with Claire Andre.  There was a very clear focus on safeguarding and vulnerability, so much so that the similarities between the values and attitudes of the control room staff and NHS and social care were striking. 

And finally, I was pleased to be involved with the arrangements for recruiting two new Non-Executive Directors to the Board of Directors. Our Council of Governors will now need to consider the recommendations of the Panel of Governors (chaired by Ken Jarrold) and I’ll look forward to providing you with a further update in my next blog.

As ever, feel free to drop me a line at if there’s anything specific you’d like to hear about.


#Here I am

Can I start with a big thank you to everyone who read my first blog and for all of your comments, likes, shares and retweets on social media. (I’ll get the hang of this digital malarkey yet!)

Over the past two weeks, it’s been really good to have had the opportunity to meet with some of our new colleagues from Cumbria who will be joining us from 1 October.  During my recent visits to Carlisle, Penrith, Whitehaven and Workington, it’s been very clear to see the commitment and passion of staff and I was especially interested in hearing about the things staff were most proud of.  Together, I am confident that we can deliver on our shared objective of providing the best possible services for those who need our help.

I’m sure many of you will have seen the focus around learning disability services there has been in the media over the last few weeks.  For those of you who watched the BBC Panorama Programme about how badly people with a learning disability and/or autism were treated in an independent sector hospital in the North, I am sure, like me, that you will have been horrified at what you saw.  The programme had a disturbing and profound impact on me personally, as I am sure it did on you too. I have spent some time visiting some of our own services for people with a learning disability to offer my support and reassurance that I have every confidence in the great job staff are doing. But also to talk and listen with staff about how they’d been emotionally affected. 

We have been working with other NHS and local authority partners to enable the safe transfer of people from the unit into alternative NHS hospitals and to prepare services in the community.  If you or anyone you know has been affected by the issues raised in the programme, the BBC has provided some information which signposts to organisations who may be able to help

Learning disability will be featured in the media this week but for a much more positive reason.  Learning disability week is taking place from 17 to 23 June and the theme this year is about sport and inclusion.  And although I confess I’m no ambassador for fitness (!), we can all play our part in raising awareness as we know that there are great benefits in terms of improving our health and our wellbeing through sport and other physical activities The charity Mencap are encouraging as many people as possible, with and without a learning disability, to get involved in inclusive sporting activities in their community.  You can find out more about the week by using the hashtags #HereIAm and #LDWeek19.

On 6 June I paid a visit to the SIB team; SIB stands for Social Impact Bond and is one of seven government pilot schemes running across the country to try and address the issue of homelessness.  Specialist Nurse Rebecca Wilson explained that the team engage and support people who are either long term rough sleeping or stuck within the hostel accommodation system with the aim to help people leave the streets or hostel system permanently and engage with relevant services, such as mental health, employment or where relevant addiction services.  The team works across Newcastle and Gateshead and we are delighted that Rebecca’s post has been funded for two years by Newcastle City Council. 

Rebecca introduced me to a gentleman who was alcohol and drug dependent but has made huge progress after being supported by the team.  Schemes such as this one can make such a difference in supporting a person to help them get their life back on track.  The team use a strength based approach, looking to meet basic needs first and use formulation (5Ps) to help them better understand each person and find creative ways to support a way forward. Rebecca explained that the learning from the team is being used by commissioners when thinking about future services as they have recognised the model works with multi-partnership working.

Thank you for taking the time to catch up with what I’ve been up to recently, and as ever, if there is anything in particular you’d like to ask me please let me know via  

Welcome to my new blog!

John Lawlor

Chief Executive, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog where I’ll be sharing messages every two weeks.

I recently read a ‘blog’ if you know me, you’ll know that that means I’m finally being pulled kicking and screaming, into the 21st century!!  That said, it did inspire me to communicate, engage, link with, and talk to people in a new way as well as face-to-face.  As a Chief Executive in the NHS, one of the biggest challenges is ensuring that people feel empowered, whether in their jobs working for the NHS, or as a service user, patient, carer or partner.  And actually one person, no matter who they are or what their position, cannot achieve this…..we all have a part to play.  So here goes.

Here at NTW, one of the areas of focus at the minute is the transfer of mental health and disability services from Cumbria Partnerships NHS Foundation Trust into NTW.  Over the past few weeks I’ve spent some time in Cumbria, along with many more of my colleagues, meeting staff ahead of the transfer of services on 1st October 2019.  What was really clear, and humbling, was to see first-hand the commitment of staff in providing compassionate and responsive care to service users.  NTW and Cumbria have worked in partnership for some time now and it really is an example of how working together with a common goal, can inspire people to be the best they can be, despite the challenges in front of them.

It’s with complete sincerity that I recognise that any service transfer can be a particularly worrying time for everyone, but not least for those staff affected by the transfer.  We, at NTW, will do everything we can to support staff, service users and carers over the next six months and beyond and I’m looking forward to working with the teams in Cumbria and welcoming them to the Trust.  We are holding staff and stakeholder events where we can have the opportunity to meet in person, where I can tell Colleagues about NTW, our services, our vision and our approach to supporting staff to achieve their aspirations.    

One of the downsides of being a Chief Executive in one of the largest mental health and disability Trust’s in the country is that I can’t be everywhere at once….despite how much I want to be!!  So one of the most rewarding aspects of my role is when I visit our services and remind myself of what it must be like to be on the front line.  It makes me reflect on not only all of the different roles and skills which come together to make a service work, but also the characteristics like respect,  compassion, openness which makes the NHS ‘tick’.  Lately I’ve visited both the Community Treatment Team, South of Tyne and the Community Team in Ashington.  It was a great opportunity to be able to spend time with staff and hear about what is going well, but also to hear about their challenges.  As I said, I’m keen to get out to our services, so if you would like me to visit anywhere specific, let me know and I’ll make every effort to get there.

Speaking of respect, compassion and openness, it’s not only something which our front line staff and managers should aspire too.  We as a Board also need to reflect on our own values and last month we held a Board of Directors Away Day at which we had a thought provoking workshop about empathy, facilitated by Carolyn Cleveland, using her own lived experience.  She took us on a journey of empathy and emotional awareness and the importance of these within and across organisations, when things go wrong.  The session was particularly powerful for me personally, listening to her articulate so well her own emotions and feelings about her past contact with the NHS.

I recently attended a fantastic leadership event for young people with a learning disability, autism or both.  The programme was excellent with lots of presentations from a wide range of participants and I have agreed to provide coaching support to one of the groups of young people.  There was a standout presentation from a lady named Katie who has a national role with NHS England and has Down ’s syndrome.  She explained that often people with a learning disability feel like they have things ‘done to’ rather than being ‘enabled to.’  By listening to the real human stories like Katie’s, it gives us a rare and important insight into walking in another person’s shoes and to learn important lessons.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog (I’ll also be tweeting too @johnlawlorNTW) and I hope you enjoyed learning more about what I’ve been up to.  If there is anything in particular you’d like to ask me about included here please do let me know – you can do this by dropping the communications team a quick email at