Injured war veterans who lost limbs in action are rebuilding their lives at a new £125,000 gym in Preston.
The facility, aimed at amputees, is the first of its kind at an NHS centre in the country.
Getting veteran amputees as fit as possible so they can be the best they can is the aim of staff at Preston’s Specialist Mobility Rehabilition Centre.
Dr Fergus Jepson, consultant in rehabilitation medicine at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals, explains: “I have been trying to get a specialist gym at the centre aimed at amputees and those with prosthetic limbs for the last seven years.
“This centre has more military amputees than any other centre in the UK.
“Preston gets about 30 per cent of all applications from veteran amputees across the UK.
“The centre that gets the next highest number of applications gets about eight per cent.”
The Veterans’ Prosthetics Programme was set up following a report by Dr Andrew Murrison MP called A Better Deal For Military Amputees.
The report, commissioned by the Prime Minister, looked at the provision of prosthetics for military amputees.
Dr Murrison recommended a small number of multi-disciplinary centres should provide specialist prosthetic and rehabilitation services across the country, to ensure veterans have access to the similar high quality of care provided by the Armed Forces.
Nine Disablement Service Centres were selected to provide services to veterans who have lost a limb as a result of their service in the Armed Forces – and Preston’s, on Watling Street Road, Fulwood, was one of the chosen nine.
The Government announced the nine NHS centres would receive a share of up to £6.7m of funding to use to access the latest technology and provide the highest quality of prosthetic care for veteran amputees. Preston was the first centre to use the funding to develop and set up the specialised gym, and other centres are now following suit.
Dr Jepson chose the gym’s equipment after visiting the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court, in Surrey, and seeing their facilities.
The gym features equipment such as anti gravity treadmills, arm bikes, leg bikes and upper and lower body weight machines, which allow those who have had amputations, or are just starting to be fitted with prosthetic limbs, to exercise.
Dr Jepson says: “The aim of the gym is to get veterans as fit as possible so they can be the best they can – which is the Army’s mantra.
“Our aim is to carry on the work of Headley Court into their life after the Army, so they can maintain their levels of fitness and activity.
“Most veteran amputees are young and active and require a lot more attention as they want to get as much of their fitness and activity back as they can.”
The gym is already making a difference to both veteran amputees and civilian patients.
Dr Jepson says: “The gym is fitted with £125,000 of equipment, and we are the first centre of those who received funding to get a specialist gym up and running. Most of the other centres are now copying it. We received an allocation of £750,000, and the majority of that is for staffing and accommodation costs and equipment.”
Rachel Humpherson, a specialist physiotherapist at the centre, says the patients are assessed for their fitness and milestones, before a 16-week supervised gym programme is devised.
She says: “The new gym is improving the health and wellbeing of patients.
“It helps in reducing their breathlessness when they take part in everyday activities, such as going up and down the stairs, and we have also seen weight loss and other health improvements.
“The gym is great for patients, as they have the support of healthcare professionals who understand their disability and problems.