In Mind: Chief Executive Joe Rafferty talks about COVID - a year on, ITV Granada, staff and colleagues, the high sheriff award and more

Joe Rafferty's blog

It’s normal in this blog to look ahead and not dwell too much on old news, but I thought it may be of value to turn the clock back exactly one year, as the World Health Organisation just declared a pandemic. Trending on Twitter on 15 March 2020 were a few celebrities of course and new and unfamiliar hashtags such as ‘French Ski Resorts’, ‘ventilator’ and ‘HighRiskCOVID19’. Spain was about to declare its lockdown and there was the first talk of one in the UK as the sad death toll reached 35. The advice about handwashing was there, but a year on, we can perhaps marvel at the learning curve we were embarking on. 

We have many stories to tell about this year. You can’t go far in conversation about the pandemic with the public without the topic of mental health coming up, and in clinical circles, there’s much talk about dealing with people who are very much more seriously ill than previously. I discuss the work of the out of hospital cell in this video here. I lead our region’s response to the emergency beginning one year ago for mental health, community services, primary care and a relationship with nine local authorities, public health, social care and voluntary colleagues: covering 2.3 million people. To be frank, with so many moving parts it was a challenge and we didn’t initially have the clinical information we needed. However, it was hugely rewarding to forge such brilliant relationships and safely manage discharge planning to the most appropriate bed. It was care without boundaries and it was great to make that happen; there’s nothing like a dose of real life circumstances to forge valuable partnerships and reinforce not just compassion to our patients but mutual support for our professional contacts. Recovery is about maintaining this – and even going better than before.

I don’t wish to revisit tragedy or the lessons to learn here, but I must say that after a year, we now have effective testing and vaccines: we have no doubt of how to act and work so that we minimise the spread of what remains a deadly pandemic. We have hope and we have protection. Many of you will have had your first jab and be hearing about when the second one is available. A number will even be in households where all adults are now protected. But there remains some resistance and some concern. As NHS professionals we really should lead by example and not be reticent about our place in society – as people whose duty is to care for and protect people. We should be safe practitioners and, as I will say and keep saying, all have our COVID protection.

There is anxiety out there still. We continue to work with representatives and networks and there’s some good advice for BAME communities from a resident and senior leaders in the Cheshire and Merseyside Partnership here. This week, the Muslim Council of Britain have issued some valuable guidance for followers of Islam who will want to know how next month’s Ramadan can be marked with extra care. It’s on the BAME network page for staff. They detail how religious practice in and out of mosque can be followed safely and with imams’ approval. For everyone, the parts of that advice about gathering online and avoiding hugs are familiar concepts. Although there’s some easing of national guidelines, none of us can lower our guard. If you are yet to have your jab, please do not hesitate - it’s safe, it’s the right thing to do and it will very likely save lives.


Honours and recognition

This week I was delighted and proud to have been appointed as an Honorary Professor by the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Population Health. As an organisation with solid links across our communities, Mersey Care has always tried to work closely with local universities, so this honorary professorship feels like recognition for all my colleagues at the Trust who have worked alongside academics both in research and with joint initiatives. We have a number of valuable partnerships in the region where joint working has made significant progress in the understanding of many of our service user and patient groups, and also seen a healthy input of students and expertise come into our ranks.

Joe Rafferty at the launch of the Zero Suicide Alliance in 2017

The University of Liverpool and Mersey Care are both committed to understanding how our population is affected and learning lessons from how we deal with challenging situations like the pandemic. I am especially proud to have led a team whose response to COVID-19, without organisational boundaries, in projects like the Combined Intelligence for Population Health Action system, has delivered for our community and region.

This is a blog for all Mersey Care staff, and I want to broaden out the recognition. Firstly, to record the letter of thanks to staff in Southport received this week. It was signed by directors and senior officers of the council, local CCGs and partner trusts and healthcare organisations, recording how they’ve worked co-operatively in the Southport and Ormskirk area, rising to meet COVID-19 challenges.

Secondly, my thanks to colleagues who featured on ITV Granada Reports on Friday night. It began with acknowledgement of the work of staff at Clock View, showing the effects of the pandemic in just one of our hospitals.

It rightly highlighted the increase in first time patients, struggling with the isolation and not seeing people, family and clinicians, face to face to face. As well as inpatient services, the Urgent Care Team’s helpline was highlighted. They rightly noted this as the most challenging 12 months we’ve ever had and, as I said to Granada in my interview, as restrictions ease, our care will be needed much more. I recommend the report to you here.

And to close I’ll bring in recognition every one of the trust team. That’s all staff, in all disciplines, divisions and locations. The High Sheriff of Merseyside, one of the oldest roles in civic life, has praised Mersey Care for our response to the current COVID-19 pandemic. This week I received a warm and inspiring letter, and a certificate too, from the current holder of the office, His Honour John Roberts DL, who expressed his thanks for the work of the trust.

High Sheriffs have existed since Saxon times and today their role is about supporting local authorities, emergency services, faith groups and voluntary organisations. Each year the High Sheriff of Merseyside singles out organisations and individuals whose achievements are above and beyond.

Chief Executive Joe Rafferty CBE with the High Sherrif award

We have all been thanked for "enhancing the life of the community". The letter says: “What has been achieved these last twelve months in terms of addressing your normal workload and coping with the COVID-19 pandemic would not have been remotely possible without everybody working as one big team and in a totally committed and selfless way.”

His letter includes a phrase I have used a few times already – ‘you have been nothing short of amazing’. This formal acknowledgement is welcome and shows the regard in which the NHS in general and Mersey Care specifically are held. In the weeks ahead, we’ll get the certificate to various parts of the trust so we can give this gesture real resonance and meaning – it’s an official thank you from a formal and respected source, and it’s rightly for us all.


Prof Joe Rafferty CBE

Chief Executive