Acute Healthcare Organisation of the Year sponsored by CHKS

South Tees Hospitals trust has been on what can only be described as a quite extraordinary journey. You don’t have to go back very many years at all to find an organisation struggling under the burden of£56 million of debt and two consecutive one-star NHS performance reports.

In what seems like no time at all however that changed and South Tees, the only non-foundation status trust to make it on to a shortlist of five, had been judged HSJ Awards 2007 Acute Healthcare Organisation of the Year.

"Our entry last year told the story of a particular set of circumstances and how we came out the other side," says Simon Pleydell, chief executive. "We had had the public interest reports and the appearances before the select committee to talk about our deficit. But we dealt with those finance and performance issues and what is more, the things that had always been strong in the organisation – the way it tackled change, brought in innovation and worked as a team – were and are still there."

"Winning the HSJ award was a validation for us, a real milestone," he adds. "It was an enormous boost after having to concentrate on the money for so long. It assured us that we hadn’t lost sight of what we are really here for, to deliver high quality services."

There’s evidence for this right at the front door. While the trusts main site, the James Cook hospital, sits in an area with high indices for multiple deprivation – a challenge for any emergency care provider – and attendances at A&E have been rising, South Tees continues to perform exceptionally well against the four-hour waiting time target.

A consultant-led "see and treat" service - filtering walk-in patients into an assessment area while complicated cases get the green light straight into the main unit - has been making all the difference. The NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement described the department as excellent.

"There was a lot in our application about how we regrouped, took stock and then worked together to deliver innovation," says Mr Pleydell. "The ethos of team work in this organisation has been there since the early 90s, and a lot of that innovation that we are seeing now came about as a result of the senior team giving clinical leaders and staff groups the trust and freedom to get on with the job to bring about change – like that in A&E - on their own terms."

With short-listing for the award safely negotiated time came for the judges' visit and at this point the chief executive made it a priority for the panel to meet what he considered to be the teams of people really making the difference.

"Rather than putting on any kind of big corporate production for the judges," says Mr Pleydell, "I wanted to be able to show them the real essence of what South Tees Hospitals trust is about. Essentially that meant introducing them to our staff so they could sense their commitment at first-hand and the way they pull together to get things done."

South Tees has always had a strong sense of confidence in what it does. The trust still took plenty of encouragement however from the recognition the judges rewarded them with.

"The HSJ award confirmed us as an intact and highly viable organisation with a strong track record of achievement, innovation and quality care," says Mr Pleydell. "We managed to clear a huge debt. Saving money however isn’t in itself difficult. The real challenge, and what winning the award told us, was that we had been saving money and at the same time maintaining the innovation and the quality of the service to the patients."

What judges want

  • Indicators of high quality, patient-centred care
  • A clear strategy
  • Excellent engagement between managers and clinicians, with demonstrable unity of purpose, and collaboration to drive service improvements
  • Good people development throughout the organisation, with leadership at all levels, and a culture where staff feel valued and respected and everyone understands the organisation's goals
  • Use of management and clinical information to drive improvement
  • Proof of a culture which encourages innovation at all levels
  • Real involvement of patients and the wider local community in shaping services. This should demonstrate an understanding of health inequality issues in the catchment population
  • Progress on the key public service agreement targets
  • Strong financial management which supports the organisation's strategic goals
  • Partnership working with other organisations, both in the NHS and outside it
  • High performance on key access targets including A&E, outpatient and inpatient times
  • Evidence of long term strategic planning