Health Secretary Matt Hancock joined staff from Epsom and St Helier NHS Hospitals at the opening of the new coronavirus support facility at Headley Court yesterday (May 4).

The Leatherhead care facility was named the in honour of the pioneering nurse Mary Seacole, and opened Monday as part of the NHS response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mary Seacole was a Jamaican born pioneering nurse who helped soldiers to recover from the Crimean War and inspired the name of the new facility.

The NHS Seacole Centre is "the first of its kind in England" and will be used as a temporary service for patients who are recovering from Covid-19.

It has up to 300 inpatient beds if they are needed.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock and Chief Nursing Officer for England Ruth May "virtually" opened the new facility on Monday as staff from Epsom and St Helier Hospitals, who are hosting care at the centre and helped set it up, looked on inside.

"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," Hancock said.

“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," he added.

Chief People Officer for the NHS, Prerana Issar, said the official opening of the centre "provides an opportunity to thank all those involved who have pulled out all the stops to ensure that as we move through the next phase of dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, that there is the right kind of extra capacity in place to help people who need it."

“Colleagues from BAME communities are absolutely integral to our NHS, both during the NHS response to COVID-19 and beyond, and I hope that naming this hospital after a Jamaican-born nurse celebrated for her pioneering, community spirit is a small but hopefully powerful way to recognise and honour colleagues from minority groups, including those from the Windrush generation," she added.

Meanwhile the Chair of the Surrey Heartlands Partnership and Leader of Surrey County Council, Tim Oliver, said: “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.

"The collaboration demonstrated through this project, and our wider response to the current situation, has been remarkable."