Traumatic head injury service breaks new ground at CUH Addenbrooke’s


When 38 year old Sally Markwell from Ely went for a routine mammogram she passed out and fell back off the machine, hitting her head on the floor. It was to be the start of a life-changing experience that would initially throw her into an isolated and frightening place of confusion.

“In the months after the fall I changed completely. I would feel dizzy, I would feel so very tired and tearful, I felt anxious and scared. I couldn’t watch the TV or read, I couldn’t tolerate noise or bright lights. Too many people around me would make me feel bad. I couldn’t drive and everyday tasks felt like such an effort. I was unsure of what was happening and spent most of my days crying.”

Sally’s family became so worried, they pushed the GP for a referral and they were finally put in touch with the Evelyn Community Head Injury Service or ECHIS at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.

Set up in 2010, the service offers specialist, clinical neuro-rehabilitation to a wide range of adults in Cambridgeshire who have had a traumatic brain injury. Consultant in Neuro-rehabilitation Dr Judith Allanson(pictured), believes the support it offers is unique: “It simply didn’t exist in this part of the world before. It was clear to clinicians that there was no bespoke specialist NHS rehabilitation service based in the county where people could be referred immediately after discharge from hospital. We set up the service to fill this gap, and it’s been incredibly successful.”

Sally Markwell’s life changed dramatically for the better once she’d made contact with the service. “To hear that someone understood was the start of my recovery. Up until that point everything was so uncertain and there were no answers. But at my first meeting I was made to feel at ease and they explained what they could do to help. I finally had support, someone to listen and to help me.”

Given the ground they’ve covered in the past five years  it’s a relief to all involved to learn that this type of  service is now supported by the Cambridgeshire Clincial Commissioning Group. Initially set up with money from  the Evelyn Trust, it was agreed that after five years the  NHS would take over. Going forward, the CCG interest should ensure  that groups like the ECHIS are included in all future  community neuro-rehabilitation units.

The initial donation from the Evelyn Trust has allowed relative independence from traditional NHS processes so that the growth of ECHIS over the past four years has  not only been a journey for the patients, but also for the staff and the service itself.  “The autonomy it’s given has allowed us to discover new systems and new ways of working to provide very specific and bespoke treatment plans. This spider’s web reaches out across all sorts of different partner agencies and volunteer organisations to really give patients the support they need. I hope other NHS departments will be able to learn from this, and use us as an example of what’s possible”, says Judith. “I hope it will encourage other teams to work in this truly integrated and multiagency way.”



Cambridge University Hospitals is one of the largest and best known trusts in the country. As the local hospital for our community we deliver care through Addenbrooke’s and the Rosie hospitals.

Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust