First Seacole Centre opens doors as NHS expands COVID rehab services

Thousands of people are set to benefit from enhanced community services to help them recover from the long term effects of coronavirus, the head of the NHS said yesterday, as the first new dedicated rehab hospital received its first patients.

The NHS Seacole Centre at Headley Court, Surrey, named in honour of the pioneering nurse Mary Seacole, will provide specialist rehabilitation care for patients who are recovering from Covid-19 in the Surrey region, with staff welcoming the first patients over the course of this week.

Visiting the facility near Leatherhead yesterday, NHS chief executive, Sir Simon Stevens, hailed the efforts of all those involved in getting the new service up and running, and unveiled plans for similar services in other parts of the country.

The NHS Seacole Centre, at Headley Court Surrey, is the first of its kind in England, and will be used as a temporary service for local patients who are recovering from Covid-19 and who no longer need care in an acute hospital, or those who have the virus and can no longer cope with their symptoms at home.

Formerly a disused military hospital, the facility was transformed into The NHS Seacole Centre in just 35 days, thanks to the work of teams across Surrey Heartlands, including Surrey County Council, the military and the NHS – including host trust Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals.

Sir Simon Stevens said: “In response to the greatest health emergency of our time, frontline and support staff across the NHS have moved heaven and earth to provide expert care for over 90,000 Covid patients treated in our hospitals over just the past 90 days.

“While our country is now emerging from the initial peak of coronavirus, we’re now seeing a substantial new need for rehab and aftercare for Covid patients who’ve come through this terrible illness.

“Some may need care for tracheostomy wounds, ongoing therapy to recover heart, lung and muscle function, psychological treatment for post-intensive care syndrome and cognitive impairment, while others may need social care support for their everyday needs like washing and dressing.

“So the next phase of the health service’s coronavirus response will mean expanding and strengthening community health and care services in new ways, such as these new Seacole Centres.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Thanks to the hard work of our brilliant frontline staff the NHS has saved tens of thousands of lives during this pandemic.  While we continue to battle with Covid-19, we have opened our first NHS Seacole centre to provide dedicated rehabilitation services.”

“We know that for some people this can be a debilitating illness, with lasting effects. The new NHS Seacole Centre is just the start as the NHS rapidly strengthens community support to help those affected return home to their loved ones, and to full health.”

NHS hospitals have provided expert inpatient and critical care for over 90,000 people with coronavirus over the last three months.

While the majority of those patients have survived its life-threatening complications, for many the virus will have a longer lasting impact on their health.

To help meet this new need for care, local NHS teams have been asked to work with their colleagues in councils and voluntary groups to expand community provision and put in place integrated packages of care at home and in the community for those patients.

The services will bring together a wide range of specialist staff, including doctors and nurses but also mental health staff, pharmacists, dieticians, speech therapists, physios, occupational therapists, psychologists and social workers, with the aim of helping people return home safely as soon as they are able to.

The Seacole Centre Surrey will be an important part of how people in the South East can be supported in the months ahead.

Named after the pioneering nurse Mary Seacole, who was famed for the rehabilitative care provided to soldiers injured in the Crimean War, the facility’s name represents the diversity of the staff working there, while also reflecting the rich history of Headley Court as a military hospital built in 1899.

Over 100 staff members have already been recruited to work in the facility, with initial plans to open 130 patient beds, with capacity for up to 300 if they are needed.

Chief Executive of Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, Daniel Elkeles, said:

Transforming this site into the NHS Seacole Centre has taken the hard work and commitment of staff working across Surrey Heartlands, including our colleagues in the military, Surrey County Council and the whole of the NHS.

“It is with great pride that we can provide expert and compassionate care to people recovering from Covid-19 in a purpose-designed centre that bears the Seacole name. I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank each and every member of staff working in the centre, as well as all our staff across the Trust who are going above and beyond, day in, day out. The dedication our teams have shown during these unprecedented times has been truly humbling.

“The Seacole Centre in Surrey is a vital part of the services available for patients in the local area and it provides the reassurance that additional capacity exists for as and when it’s needed.”

Each local area is being asked to plan how best to deliver services, while also increased critical care capacity in case it is needed in the future, and where possible also bringing back non-urgent services on a phased basis including routine tests and operations.

While in many cases these services will be delivered by or within existing NHS facilities, where necessary plans may include using other temporary facilities like Seacole Centres.

Clinical Director of the NHS Seacole Centre, Dr Hilary Floyd, said: “We know that recovering from coronavirus can take a long time and symptoms can continue, and we are delighted to offer comprehensive care to those who need us.

“COVID has been cruel to so many and we see the NHS Seacole Centre as a place of recovery where those who need more care before they go home can receive this through an integrated, holistic, multi-disciplinary team approach.”