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A new temporary community hospital named after British-Jamaican nursing pioneer Mary Seacole is opening in Surrey for people who are recovering from Covid-19 as well as other conditions.
The new unit based at Headley Court Hospital in Leatherhead is expected to be the first of a wave of new “Seacole services” that will be set up to focus on patient rehabilitation as the UK passes through the peak of the crisis.
The move comes after a campaign, backed by NHS England diversity lead nurse Yvonne Coghill, called for one of the temporary Covid-19 hospitals to be named after Ms Seacole as a way of recognising the contribution of black and minority ethnic (BME) health staff.
The overflow critical care hospitals that have opened in England to date have all taken the name of Florence Nightingale, who was a contemporary of Ms Seacole, both putting their lives on the line to nurse soldiers injured during the Crimean War.
Supporters of the decision to name the new temporary community hospital after Ms Seacole said the move “symbolises the contribution made by so many nurses and other healthcare workers, from all different backgrounds and from all around the world”.
“I fully expect that this will be just the first of a number of Seacole services”
Sir Simon Stevens
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock and chief nursing officer for England, Ruth May, will today virtually open the new facility, named the NHS Seacole Centre, as part of the next phase of the response to the virus.
The community hospital will have up to 300 inpatient beds for both those recovering from the virus and for people who have been in hospital for routine treatment during the pandemic.
The aim is to protect acute hospital beds for those who become seriously ill from Covid-19, as well as for patients who need other urgent and emergency treatment.
Commenting on the announcement, Ms May said: “Mary Seacole made an extraordinary, long-term contribution to community healthcare and so it is fitting that such an important service is honouring her name.
“It’s also a wonderful testament to so many nurses and healthcare workers from diverse backgrounds and from different countries who make up our NHS – I am extremely proud of their continued dedication to step up these services for patient during the greatest challenge in our history.”
Sir Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, said the move rightly paid tribute to nurses and other staff from BME backgrounds, who were at the forefront of the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It also serves as a timely reminder that it is their contribution over the past seven decades that has been a foundation for the very success and continuation of the NHS itself,” he added.
He signalled that this would be the first of a number of services named after Ms Seacole.
“I fully expect that this will be just the first of a number of Seacole services that will now begin to be established across the country as the NHS moves through the peak of inpatient coronavirus care and the need for community health and rehabilitative services grows,” said Sir Simon.
Meanwhile, Mr Hancock added: “There can be no more fitting tribute to the extraordinary work of Mary Seacole than the compassion and dedication of our health and social care staff working on the frontline of this pandemic today.
“NHS Seacole will not only offer a vital space for recovery and rehabilitation but will also free up crucial extra capacity so everybody who needs care can receive it over the coming months.”
Also commenting, Trevor Sterling, chair of the Mary Seacole Trust, said: “It is great that Mary Seacole, famous for battling disease and pioneering community rehabilitation, is being recognised in our country’s response to the virus.
“Naming the hospital at Headley Court the “NHS Seacole Centre” symbolises the contribution made by so many nurses and other healthcare workers, from all different backgrounds and from all around the world, who make up our wonderful NHS.”
Chief people officer for the NHS, Prerana Issar, said colleagues from BME communities were “absolutely integral to our NHS, both during the NHS response to Covid-19 and beyond”.
Ms Issar said she hoped that naming the hospital after Ms Seacole was “a small but hopefully powerful way to recognise and honour colleagues from minority groups, including those from the Windrush generation”.
“It is great that Mary Seacole is being recognised in our country’s response to the virus”
The facility will be hosted by Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust and chief executive, Daniel Elkeles, said the organisation was “delighted” to be doing so.
“The opening today is a real testament to the hard work of our frontline workers and the great willingness on the part of all our staff who are going above and beyond in the most challenging conditions,” he said.
Chair of the Surrey Heartlands Partnership and leader of Surrey County Council, Tim Oliver, added: “It is an honour to name this centre after Mary Seacole whose selflessness and pioneering spirit echoes that of the cross-partner team from the NHS, Surrey County Council and the military who have successfully ensured this facility stands ready if local services need them.”
He said the collaboration demonstrated during the project had been “remarkable”.
“The NHS Seacole Centre at Headley Court belongs to Surrey and provides the reassurance that additional capacity exists,” said Mr Oliver.
“Across the region our nurses, doctors, therapists and other NHS staff are working incredibly hard, together with our partners in social care, emergency services and other key workers to make sure people get the care they need when they need it.”