Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation for Disabled People (QEF) welcomed HRH The Countess of Wessex on 24th June to officially open the state of the art Care and Rehabilitation Centre (CRC) - a centre of neuro rehabilitation expertise that supports people to rebuild their lives after an acquired brain injury, stroke, incomplete spinal injury or other neurological condition. 

The service opened during the pandemic in July 2020 and Her Royal Highness was keen to speak to staff about their experiences of the last year and the challenges of providing person-centred therapy and care to people straight from hospital and sometimes straight from Intensive Care.

The team at the CRC have worked tirelessly during the pandemic, expanding the number of NHS Trusts and Clinical Commissioning Groups the service supports, so they were able to accept patients directly from hospitals across the South of England. This helped the NHS free up acute beds for COVID-19 patients during the height of the crisis and enabled individuals to start their rehabilitation as soon as possible.  Professor Stephen Powis, National Medical Director for NHS England recently said: “QEF has exemplified how organisations have stepped up throughout the period, providing care and rehabilitation to patients who’ve suffered strokes or seizures or other brain injuries.”

The Countess met service managers, speech and language therapists, clinical psychologists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists, as well as specialist nurses, care staff and QEF’s medical consultant. HRH was introduced to vital support staff including IT, maintenance teams, administration and essential volunteers who have all be integral to the service over the past year. The Countess also spoke to several current clients including James who has long-covid and had a seizure whilst he was in hospital, and Seán who has an acquired brain injury.

Karen Deacon, QEF’s Chief Executive says: “It has been an honour to show Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex our Care and Rehabilitation Centre today and introduce her to staff who have worked so hard during the last year. Opening a new centre is always a challenge but opening at the height of a global pandemic has taken an incredible commitment from everyone involved. Our expert teams are dedicated to providing person-centred therapy and care to enable people to rebuild their lives after an acquired brain injury, stroke or neurological condition; over the last year they have adapted how they work to ensure safety whilst also providing the best possible support for clients.  I am delighted that today’s visit recognises the hard work of everyone involved; from our invaluable volunteers, IT and maintenance teams to our care and therapy staff.”

The Care and Rehabilitation Centre was designed and built specifically for QEF to meet the varying needs of service users. There are 48 bedrooms each looking out onto green Surrey countryside and all have en-suite bathrooms with tracking hoists.  Her Royal Highness heard from staff how invaluable this had been during the pandemic, as clients on arrival from hospital have been able to isolate in their rooms in comfort and safely receive care and even start their therapy during isolation.

There was also a demonstration of QEF’s innovative accessible technology that has been installed in every bedroom, putting familiar ‘Alexa’ controls to new uses, for the benefit of clients – a unique aspect of the Care and Rehabilitation Centre. Every bedroom has connected smart devices, such as televisions, blinds, heating controls and lights which can be controlled by simple voice commands. Clients are therefore able to control their personal environments, so if the room is too warm they can turn the temperature down, or if they want the TV off they don’t need to ask someone to do this for them. The devices can be controlled either by voice commands, hard switches or ‘text to talk’ apps for those without verbal communication. 

This visit continues the charity’s long standing relationship with The Royal Family, as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother was the patron of QEF and was involved with the charity for many years, officially opening the original training college on the same site in 1935, when she was HRH The Duchess of York.

HRH The Countess of Wessex also met with QEF’s Director of Engagement and Partnerships who explained how the charity has raised over £12 million towards the £15 million cost of the new centre. The Edward Guinness Appeal has been launched to raise the final £2.7 million needed to fully fund this landmark project that puts QEF at the forefront of neuro rehabilitation. This fundraising is ongoing and will ensure additional lifts can be added to the building, automatic doors can be added throughout, eye gaze technology can be available in every bedroom, sensory zones can be created in the gardens, accessible technology can be fully funded and additional therapy equipment can be provided.

Staff were delighted to meet Her Royal Highness as recognition of their achievements over the last year, which has been challenging for so many people.