Our Black History celebrated in new recovery hospital’s name: The NHS Seacole Centre

The UK’s new COVID-19 rehabilitation hospital has been named after the pioneering British-Jamaican nurse and Crimean War heroine, Mary Seacole.

Mary Jane Seacole (1805-1881) nursed British troops during the Crimean War in the 1850s.  Her work was historically overshadowed by her contemporary, Florence Nightingale, after whom the NHS’ new super-hospitals have been named. 

There have been calls for Mary Seacole’s importance in healthcare to be recognised – including through a near-15,000-signature petition launched by activist Patrick Vernon, urging the UK Health Secretary to rename the Birmingham super-hospital in her honour.

Now the NHS has chosen Mary’s name for its community hospital in Surrey, The NHS Seacole Centre, and has hinted that any future such rehabilitation units would also be called Seacole services. 

Mary Seacole statue

Mary Seacole statue
at St Thomas’ Hospital, London.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/OwenBlacker.
Mary Seacole, photograph
Only known photograph of Mary Seacole
(1805-1881), taken c.1873 by Maull & Company in London by an unknown photographer.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The temporary unit in Leatherhead is both for people recovering from the Corona virus, and from routine hospital treatment – with up to 300 in-patient beds. 

Trevor Sterling, chairman of the Mary Seacole Trust, unveiled the centre’s name on 4th May 2020 and said:  “It is great that Mary Seacole … is being recognised in our country’s response to the virus.

“Naming the new facility at Headley Court the ‘NHS Seacole Centre’ symbolises the contribution made by so many nurses and other healthcare workers, from so many different backgrounds and from all over the world, who make up our wonderful NHS.

“We thank all healthcare staff for their amazing contribution to our communities.”

Mary Seacole learned about Jamaican and European medicines while she was a child and young woman.   After being widowed in mid-life, she went to care for Cholera patients in Jamaica and Panama, before defying a British War Office rejection to work as a nurse in the Crimean War.  She travelled there anyway and set up The British Hotel to provide ‘comfortable quarters for sick and recovering soldiers’.  She also nursed the wounded on the battlefield. 

On her return to Britain, Mary Seacole had little money and was helped financially by people who admired her care and achievements.

Over to you:  Tell us your experience of people who are dedicating their lives to healthcare during this pandemic, and the connected humanity they inspire in you.