Published on: 6 November 2019

A delegation from the city of Harbin in China is focusing its attention on healthcare during the latest visit to Sunderland.

Sunderland City Council and the Chinese city of Harbin signed an International Friendship Agreement ten years ago which has seen regular visits to and from the partner cities to develop strong educational, cultural and business links between the two communities. This visit, organised by the City Council, follows on from one earlier this year during which representatives from Harbin No. 1 Hospital met with staff at Sunderland Royal Hospital to discuss potential collaboration and sharing of best practice.

On this occasion, the delegation is spending two days at Sunderland Royal meeting with South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust leaders, including Chief Executive Ken Bremner, and with clinicians.

They are touring key facilities including the Integrated Critical Care Unit and the Emergency Department, which is continuing to provide safe, outstanding care 24/7 in the face of increasing pressure. Despite the challenges, in the latest NHS Urgent and Emergency Care Survey local patients said their experience of emergency care at Sunderland Royal had improved in some areas and they rated their overall experience higher than in the previous survey.

Medical Director Dr Shaz Wahid highlighted the importance of the Trust’s diabetic screening programme in helping to prevent the development of and deterioration in complications in diabetes, which is expected to be the seventh leading cause of death in the world by 2030. Patients in Sunderland attend for annual screening, incorporating a range of vital checks, in community venues.

Cardiology and dementia services are among other specialities being discussed with the delegation and the Trust’s role as a Global Digital Exemplar - an internationally-recognised NHS provider delivering improvements in the quality of care through the world-class use of digital technologies and information - will also be highlighted. In addition, the Trust will outline ambitions for a smokefree NHS. One in four patients admitted to hospital are smokers and the total annual cost of smoking to the NHS across Sunderland and South Tyneside is about £22.7m. The Trust’s aims are for every frontline professional to discuss smoking with their patients, for stop smoking support to be offered on site or referrals made to local services and no smoking anywhere in NHS buildings or grounds.

Trust Chief Executive Ken Bremner said: “It is a great pleasure to once again meet colleagues from Harbin and share with them some of our successes and challenges and build upon our discussions regarding best practice for the mutual benefit of our communities.

“Our Trust has some world-class services; we have an international reputation for research and innovation, and we’re acknowledged as a leader in digital transformation, which is so important for the future of healthcare services. However, whilst there is much we can share which could help their population, Harbin faces many of the same healthcare challenges and we know there is so much we can learn from their healthcare experts and leaders. There is fantastic potential for working in collaboration in the future.”

Leader of Sunderland City Council, Councillor Graeme Miller said: “Our city’s International Friendship Agreement with Harbin has many aspects, from educational exchanges to these health delegations.

“The visits to Sunderland Royal Hospital show how the delegation is learning more about the NHS and that our healthcare system, despite its pressures, has admirers here and overseas. An important part of the visit is understanding more about the partnership and the joined-up role that the public sector, from the City Council, the University of Sunderland and all our public health services, all play in making a more dynamic, healthy and vibrant city.”

The health partnership project came about as a result of Councillor Miller’s visit to China in January of this year, where he met with British Embassy colleagues in Beijing. Following those meetings, Sunderland and Harbin submitted a successful bid to the Global Britain Fund to allow this collaboration. That funding financed the latest visit of the delegation to come to the city to share good practice.

The delegation of five is being led by Harbin’s Deputy Party Secretary of the city’s Health Organisation and includes Harbin No.1 Hospital’s Director General and senior clinical staff. As well as the focus on joint activity with Sunderland Royal Hospital, the three-day programme also involves meeting with Public Health colleagues and University of Sunderland academics to discuss Sunderland’s partnership approach to healthcare.