The first hospital dedicated to helping coronavirus patients recover from the long-term effects of the illness has received its first patients.
Surrey’s NHS Seacole Centre opened this month at Headley Court, a former rehab centre for injured soldiers.
Covid-19 patients can be left with tracheostomy wounds from having a tube inserted in the windpipe or need heart, lung or muscle therapy, the NHS said.
Others who have survived the virus may need psychological or social care.
Morag Ellison, 77, said the virus had left her with such poor mobility that she was unable to even turn over in bed.
“I’m looking forward to walking up the stairs on my own, then I’ll be independent as far as I’m concerned,” she said.
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “While our country is now emerging from the initial peak of coronavirus, we’re now seeing a substantial new need for rehab and aftercare.”
He said while patients had survived life-threatening complications, many would see a longer-lasting impact on their health.
More than 100 staff members have been recruited to work at the centre near Leatherhead, with initial plans for 130 beds and capacity for up to 300 if needed.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said front-line NHS staff had saved tens of thousands of lives and, while the battle with Covid-19 continued, NHS Seacole would provide dedicated rehab.
He said: “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.”
Named after the pioneering Jamaican-born nurse Mary Seacole, who cared for wounded British soldiers during the Crimean War, the centre is hosted by Epsom and St Helier NHS.
It is run by a partnership including GP practices, hospitals and Surrey County Council, while Surrey Downs Health and Care is responsible for facilities and care.
Clinical director Dr Hilary Floyd said the virus had been “cruel to so many” but NHS Seacole would provide them with a place of recovery.
Chief executive of Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS, Daniel Elkeles, said: “It is with great pride that we can provide expert and compassionate care… in a purpose-designed centre that bears the Seacole name.”