When Nuffield Health Tees Hospital sought manufacturing support to fill a long-standing void in medical equipment coverings, it found HMP Northumberland a more than willing partner. Steven Hugill finds out more about their alliance and how it has delivered crucial mental health support during the COVID-19 pandemic

Nuffield Health Tees Hospital

HMP Northumberland

To borrow an oft-used phrase, sometimes it is the smallest things that make the biggest difference.

Take Nuffield Health Tees Hospital, for example.

When patients visit its x-ray department, their gaze is unlikely to linger too long on protective coverings shielding apparatus.

But in a world where our everyday existence is now lived through the prism of COVID-19, these casings actually symbolise something far deeper than their surface fabric.

They were made by residents from HMP Northumberland’s textiles workshop, after Ross Huntley, sales and services manager at Norton-based Nuffield Health Tees Hospital, issued a social media appeal to fill a long- standing lack of covers for scanning machines, ultrasound units and mobile trolleys.

The plea was picked up by the North East England Chamber of Commerce, which connected Ross with Keith Borthwick, Sodexo Justice Services’ senior contracts manager at HMP Northumberland.

For the men involved, says Keith, the project – which began as the UK was emerging from its national COVID-19 lockdown – couldn’t have come at a better time, nor made a bigger difference.

HMP Northumberland’s textile workshop has previously transformed old Virgin Trains uniforms into bags, blankets, scarves and gloves for homeless people, and fashioned dog coats out of discarded Deliveroo jackets for animal shelters.

However, while those projects gave the team pride and satisfaction at helping society, Keith says the work with Nuffield Health Tees Hospital did more, since it provided crucial mental wellbeing amid the flux of COVID-19.

“The lockdown was difficult for the guys – they were experiencing long periods within their rooms with limited access to work or other aspects of our normal regime,” he reveals.

“But this project gave them something to focus on, and they really got a kick from seeing how they were helping the hospital and filling a gap in the market at the same time.

“We’re trying to get them more involved in what we are producing – so they can better understand where things are going and why they have been chosen.

“This project is a win-win situation for everyone – Nuffield Health Tees Hospital has received fantastic covers and our lads gained a real sense of achievement and positive mental outlook from doing something so worthwhile.

“Here at HMP Northumberland, we work hard to embed a rehabilitative culture into the residents within our care – and this project provided them with skills to embrace that culture while also helping to improve their mental health.”

Ross echoes Keith’s words on the impact of the work on residents’ mental health, saying he is delighted the partnership has helped deliver such benefits.

He says: “There was a long-standing need for equipment covers, with the x-ray department having a number of machines, units and trolleys that had never had them.

“Manufacturers don’t make them either, so it meant apparatus having to be thoroughly cleaned down every time before they were moved to different rooms.

“Of course, when COVID-19 began, health and safety was firmly in the spotlight and it really highlighted the issue we had with our machines and lack of coverings.

“The North East England Chamber of Commerce was fantastically supportive of our appeal and reached out to the team at HMP Northumberland.”

With the x-ray covers now finished and in use, Ross hopes to make the partnership a longer-term arrangement.

“A key part of my role is to ensure we have everything in place to create a safe and pleasurable experience for patients, which these covers are helping to do,” says Ross, who began his role at the hospital in February. “We have four covers for four machines in radiology, and they are fantastic quality.

“However, we’d like more, across equipment in the outpatient department, on the ward across our inpatient department and for our physiotherapy teams too.

“We are really hoping this can be a long-term partnership.”

Reiterating the project’s positive effect on residents’ mental wellbeing, Ross reveals it has also opened the door for a closer relationship between the two organisations around mental health.

Hospital staff are taking part in charity challenges to raise funds for Middlesbrough and Stockton Mind after being inspired by the feats of former soldier Derek Gamblin.

Sunderland-born Derek took part in the Two Volcano Sprint in October, a 1100km test of endurance that begins at Mount Vesuvius and ends at Mount Etna, in Italy.

Stirred by his efforts, hospital staff came up with the OnePointOne Challenge, which has seen workers, alongside their friends and families, take part in activities based on the figures of 1.1 and 11.

“Challenges have included things like running 1.1 miles or doing 11 keep-ups with a football, and it has proved very popular,” adds Ross.

“The team at HMP Northumberland have really got involved too, which is fantastic.”

Keith adds: “We already have things like field runs and circuits for exercise, but by engaging with the OnePointOne Challenge, we’ve been able to give the lads something positive to think about mentally.”