Royal seal of approval for Shropshire veterans' centre from Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh
The Duchess of Edinburgh flew into Shropshire's specialist orthopaedic hospital to officially open its pioneering £6 million veterans' centre.
The royal seal of approval for the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Hospital's Headley Court Veterans' Orthopaedic Centre on Tuesday made everyone there "walk taller and prouder", said its chief executive Stacey Keegan.
And the man who had the vision for the military veterans' centre a decade ago, consultant orthopaedic surgeon Lieutenant Colonel Carl Meyer, said sheer determination had pushed the project forward, culminating in the duchess's visit.
Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh, looked around in feigned surprise as if to say 'who is she', when she was introduced, the title bestowed on her and husband the duke less than a month ago.
In the visit lasting almost two hours she stopped to chat to scores of people, from members of the public lining her route outside the veterans' centre to staff, patients, volunteers and dignitaries inside.
Cousins, Isabelle Lawrence, aged three, and two-year-old Mali Jones, wore matching outfits and waved Union Flags to great her, while Bill McKenna, formerly of the King's Own Scottish Borders, was resplendent in his tartan.
As young soldiers, he and Rory Williams of the Royal Green Jackets were both stationed at the Park Hall army camp adjacent to the hospital. They went on to make their homes in the Oswestry area.
Former combat medic Tony Blake, representing the Parachute Regiment Association, said it was good to meet the new Colonel in Chief of his regiment.
The duchess was told how the centre - for veterans from across Britain and abroad - had been helped by a £6 million donation from the Headley Court Charity.
She heard that it had been built on the site of a former military hospital, part of the Park Hall Army camp which closed in the 1970s.
The duchess chatted to volunteers including those operating the League of Friends coffee shop like Lorraine Dodswell, and those who offer veterans help and support including veterans themselves Sandy Beattie and Richard Roberts, who both live in Shrewsbury.
They can point patients at the centre towards general advice and support aimed at veterans, including ensuring they have the benefits they are entitled to.
It was then on to the official unveiling of the plaque to mark her visit.
Hospital trust chairman Harry Turner said it was a huge honour to welcome the duchess to the veterans' centre.
"It is a very special day for the hospital and one that the staff richly deserve," he said.
Lt Col Meyer said that now very much established, the centre was looking forward to welcoming a new orthopaedic surgeon to work alongside him and the other staff.
“For a number of years, we have talked about veterans being seen in an environment that brings comfort to them and by clinical teams that have an understanding of military personnel and their unique needs. This is now reality, which marks the beginning of a new era of bespoke care for our veteran patients and members of the Armed Forces.
“There are 80,000 military veterans in Shropshire and 1.8 million across the UK,” he said.
“There is no reason why other hospital trusts could not mirror what we are doing here and provide a bespoke service for our veterans.”
He showed the Duchess around the centre, touring the wards where she spoke to patients. They included former WRAF admin staff member Arlene Baker, from Aberystwth, who is recovering from a knee replacement operation, and ex-army regular Jessica Waterworth, attending the physio department as part of her recovery for a broken femur and determined to get back to full fitness.
Orthopaedic surgeon Ibrahim Roushdi and anaesthetist James Neil told the duchess about the day case facility which allows patients to have a whole range of surgical procedures without having to spend a night or even a whole day in hospital; an expanding service for the veterans.
Hospital trust chairman Harry Turner said it was a huge honour to welcome the duchess to the veterans’ centre.
“It is a very special day for the hospital and one that the staff richly deserve,” he said.
The £6 million two-storey building features nine standard examination and clinic rooms, an enhanced treatment room for minor outpatient procedures, an assessment room, a splinting and therapy room, as well as clinic space for virtual appointments.
In the main entrance of the building, there is a café and dedicated Veterans’ Hub where Shropshire Council and various military charities will provide support to veteran patients and their family and friends, with issues that range from homelessness, finance, debt management, welfare, post-traumatic stress disorder, benefits and more.