This article appeared in the February 2008 edition of the Catholic Medical Quarterly
The Restituta Group
Campaigning to restore the Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth to Catholicity
Bulletin no 17: January 2008
THE NHS/GP PRACTICE MOVE IN
January 14th 2008 was certainly a black & shameful day for the Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth with the St John’s Wood Medical Practice aggressively moving in to provide referrals for abortion and the full range of family planning services, unacceptable in terms of Catholic Ethics, into Brampton House, the former Convent of Mercy bang next to the Chapel of the Order of Malta.
For the November 7th 2007 Board Meeting Lord Bridgeman, the architect of these developments, put forward three proposals:
- Secularisation of the Hospital’s constitution by removal of the "ethics
clause" from the Hospital constitution.
- Sale of the Hospital of which a "Management Buyout" was one possible
- Approve the revised Code of Ethics and face economic dissolution.
In the event the Board voted in favour of accepting the revised Code of Ethics – 5 in favour, 3 against with 2 abstentions. It appears that the exact resolution read:
- The Board wishes to run the Hospital in accordance with Catholic Principles. RESOLVED to adopt the proposed Ethics Code but accept that it cannot be implemented in the current circumstances so IT WAS FURTHER RESOLVED:
- To adjourn the meeting and to keep the deliberations of the Board confidential for forty-eight hours to allow members of the Board to meet with the Charity’s Bankers to seek a continuation of the Bank’s facility for a period in which the Charity’s business plan could be revised to accommodate adoption of the proposed Ethics Code.
- In the event that the Bank declines to accept the proposition in Resolution 2 to move a motion for the sale of the Hospital subject again to such a sale being abandoned if before contracts were exchanged it was possible to secure the funding necessary for the transition of the Hospital to a sustainable Hospital with the proposed Ethics Code.
Now one might puzzle as to what all that meant but the essential points to take on board were that the revised Code of Ethics was adopted but not "just yet" and there was no mention of the entry of the St John’s Wood Medical Practice (SJWMP).
In the Press this was hailed as "Catholic hospital orders ban on abortion referrals" (Daily Telegraph), "London Catholic Hospital Honors Bishop’s Request to Cease Abortion Referrals – will also no longer dispense abortifacient morning after pill" (LifeSiteNews), "Hospital accepts ethics code" (The Tablet), "Catholic hospital in Britain instates pro-life ethics code" (Catholic News Agency) and finally in the Catholic Herald a leader appeared entitled "A Catholic hospital is saved" which went on to say "But the fact remains that, at last, an important Catholic institution in this country has managed to resist the pressure of secularisation – thanks, in part, to the leadership of the Cardinal".
Accompanying all this was the announcement that Dr Martin Scurr was resigning with some truly remarkable statements, to which we will return, followed by the resignation of Lord Mark Fitzalan-Howard who said he could not agree with the Cardinal’s insistence on following Catholic teaching and therefore had to do the honourable thing by resigning. Are there not others who should follow his example?
We were told that members of the Order of Malta who had opposed the secularisation of the hospital regarded this as a satisfactory outcome and had plans for the future of the Hospital now that a majority appeared to be in favour of Catholicity.
But all this was a cruel deception.
On December 12th the Board met again and decided to go ahead with the admission of the SJWMP and to sign the sub-lease so that they were able to start in the Hospital on January 14th 2008. This decision was kept secret and a smoke screen was created with a press release on December 17th which told us:
"At the Board meeting on Wednesday 12th December the Trustees approved the appointment of Lord Guthrie as a Trustee with immediate effect. Viscount Bridgeman handed over the role of Chairman, on a temporary basis, to Charles Fitzherbert, who was confirmed as the Deputy Chairman replacing Lord Mark Fitzalan Howard.
As Mr Fitzherbert was appointed to acting Chairman, Mr Anthony Chambers was appointed as acting Vice Chairman and as the Chairman of the Finance Committee.
Lord Bridgeman remains as a Trustee and his continued involvement in the Hospital is vital as his knowledge of the role will provide support for Mr Fitzherbert in the coming months.
Mr Fitzherbert joined the Board in 1999 and in addition to being a Trustee of the Hospital he is also a Trustee of the Brampton Trust.
Mr Chambers has played a vital role on the Finance Committee for a number of years and he joined the Board in 2001
Many were reassured by this but we had our doubts. It did not seem to accord with what we expected the Order of Malta might have planned. Lord Bridgeman was not, as expected, resigning from the Board but merely stepping down as Chairman and was to continue on the Board to support the new Chairman, Mr Charles Fitzherbert, who as a Brampton Trustee and a member of the Board has always supported Lord Bridgeman’s plans. We wondered whether it was all just cosmetic but we decided to give them the benefit of the doubt.
On Sunday 30th December the Sunday Telegraph had an ominous quote from Lord Guthrie saying ‘he would be keen for the hospital to retain its links to the Catholic church "if that were possible"’. It was only then in "The Tablet" that we saw the report in the Christmas issue that "This dilemma is compounded by the trustees also accepting that the surgery contract must be honoured". On the Monday we were able to obtain confirmation, from the journalist concerned, that the Board had indeed on 12th December 2007 resolved to sign the sub-lease allowing the entry of the SJWMP. We were later to discover that the SJWMP registered the agreement for the sub-lease (signed a year previously) with the Land Registry on that same 12th December as a warning to the world at large that they considered that agreement to be binding.
We immediately (Monday 31st December 2007) contacted the Charity Commission asking for permission to commence proceedings to stop the entry of the SJWMP. The Commission replied on 2nd January 2008 setting out their very extensive requirements for giving permission. One of the main obstacles is that if the Charity Commission feel that they themselves have sufficient powers to deal with the problem then they must refuse permission and in view of their extensive powers that is a very high hurdle to surmount. However the Charity Commission obviously took a very serious view of what we had told them and on 3rd January 2008 they told us that they were opening an inquiry under section 8 of the Charities Act 1993 … into both the SS John and Elizabeth Charity and the Brampton Trust. They said they were also considering their regulatory position. One of the effects of announcing such an inquiry is that it is only when they have done so that they can use their extensive powers which amongst others allows them to "suspend any trustee, charity trustee, officer, agent or employee of the charity", appoint other trustees, appoint receivers or managers, request accounts, documents etc and to issue search warrants. They can also refer matters whether civil or criminal to the Courts.
In view of this serious step by the Commission and the practical impossibility of our doing anything effective in the four remaining working days before the SJWMP started moving in on 10th January we decided to withdraw our application for permission thus leaving the field clear for the Charity Commission to act.
Quite what the Charity Commission will do we do not know and we can only speculate. Our understanding is that previously they had told both the Brampton Trustees and the Hospital that the proposed sub-lease to the SJWMP with the clause exempting them from the Code of Ethics was a breach of trust and that they must either renegotiate the lease or apply to the Charity Commission for an order removing the Ethics clause from the Hospital Constitution and allowing the Brampton Trustees to use their money for non-Catholic purposes. We know that attempts to renegotiate the lease were unsuccessful as the SJWMP were determined to be able to breach the Code of Ethics as they were under contract with their Primary Care Trust to do so. We further assume that no application has been made to the Charity Commission to vary the constitutions of the two Charities in this way and therefore in signing the sub-lease both Charities were deliberately flouting what the Charity Commission had told them to do – hence the very serious step of announcing an inquiry.
We are astonished at all this; we are particularly astonished at Charles Fitzherbert, a Brampton Trustee, stepping up to be Chairman of the Hospital and allowing these very serious breaches of Trust. It seems a most rash move on his part and we wonder whether he ought not to consider seeking legal advice from lawyers who are not acting for either the Brampton Trust or the Hospital.
We have been further informed that "the Cardinal has made known his objections to the entry of the GP practice into Brampton House under the current circumstances".
An appalling situation.
Just how has this appalling situation arisen? We now have a situation where a Catholic Hospital will be seen as condoning referrals for abortion and approving the full range of family planning services including abortifacients such as the morning-after pill. If Government proposals have their way we may yet see abortions being carried out on the premises. The Catholic Church will be seen as saying one thing and doing another in not only allowing this but also allowing Catholic money to be used to finance it. A charge of hypocrisy may well arise but more damaging is the scandal created in suggesting that the teachings of the Church can be quietly ignored when it comes to the crunch.
It is more than four years since the Linacre Centre followed by others and ourselves raised the unacceptability of having such a practice within the precincts of the Hospital. Why did those who had the power and the responsibility to stop this do nothing either in time or effectively despite being pleaded with over and over again to act as prescribed by the law? Once again unlawful behaviour has not been reported in a timely manner to the civil authorities – in this cased the Charity Commission - who could have taken action to stop it. One can speculate as to all sorts of reasons and motives for inaction: but it is not for us to judge other people’s motives.
To take just one example: the Board took an unlawful decision to admit the SJWMP on 12th December 2007. Why did not somebody make this public? There is no confidence in iniquity. If we had been able to tell the Charity Commission on 13th December 2007 about this decision they might well have been able to stop the signing of the sub-lease.
Where have the Order of Malta been on all this as protectors of the Hospital since its foundation? They always said, "We will follow the Cardinal’s instructions". For obvious reasons this has not proved very effective.
Lastly a united front against these developments would have been helpful.
Some informative remarks.
Dr Martin Scurr does get full marks for giving us all, his views as a promoter of secularism:
"I am convinced that the cardinal has been badly advised, as so often happens with the Catholic Church. Expert advisers have been chosen who give the hierarchy of the Church the answers that they wish to hear and in the matter of modern medical care the cardinal has chosen to listen to individuals who have no specific expertise in that arena. The damage to the Church will be worse if the hospital closes, unless he chooses to withdraw his patronage."
"Dr Scurr accused this group (i.e. some Knights of Malta on the Board) of being concerned with Catholicism rather than their duties as hospital trustees".
The above from "The Tablet" of 8th December 2007 which had one of their most egregious covers showing a surgeon hampered in his work by a rosary around his wrists: "Ties that bind" as if Catholic truth was not life-giving?
In the Catholic Herald, Dr Scurr was quoted as adding that the Catholic Church "appears to be unable to reach the degree of tolerance that has been reached elsewhere in the world."
"We are now in an era where the Catholic Church must withdraw from involvement in frontline healthcare."
Since then we have learnt that he has indeed acted in a principled manner emphasising his commitment to his viewpoint by resigning as medical adviser to the Secular Clergy Common Fund and the New Common Fund, and as a member of the company of The Passage.
We are not entirely clear as to the logic of retired Catholic Priests being the first to be deprived of his no doubt excellent services.
Oh and by the way Christopher Board, CEO of the Hospital, has informed us that the Hospital has spent £1.8 million in legal fees opposing our activities with the Charity Commission. No doubt a slight exaggeration but examination of the instructions given to the various lawyers may clarify if this expenditure was properly incurred or used simply to make a case totally at variance with the charitable objects of the hospital.
The Future of the Hospital.
So what is the future?
Let us first dispel one illusion to the effect that somehow non-compliance with the Code of Ethics can lead to the SJWMP being given notice to quit in one or two years. It is quite clear from the terms of the sub-lease that if any existing or future contract may have conflicts with the Code of Ethics then the contract will prevail over the Code of Ethics. The term of the lease is fifteen years unless some other solution can be found.
Secondly the Hospital must NOT be sold. We note that Lord Guthrie, appointed to the Board on 12th December, says he hopes it will continue as a Catholic Hospital, if at all possible. Well it is certainly possible to run it as a Catholic Hospital. Do not let us be defeatist – we have seen too much defeatism and wringing (if not actual washing) of hands in this campaign. The entry of the SJWMP is an apparent setback but let it be regarded as the tares amongst the wheat – something to be suffered for the time being if there is nothing we can do about it. The Board needs to be reconstructed with a rather wider range of talents than at present but above all a Board with real Catholic vision and determination to promote that vision. Then the Management needs to be reconstructed in similar manner. We will be discussing this with the Charity Commission. The Linacre Centre needs to be retained on site with a subsidised rent from the Brampton Trust so as to give ethical guidance. The Ethics Committee needs to be chaired by a committed Catholic now that Dr Scurr has retired as Chairman of the Committee and it should be given the task of overseeing the Catholic ethos of the Hospital.
The vast majority of the Hospital’s work does not involve ethical problems and it seems that most of the Doctors and Consultants have never seen the Code of Ethics, old or revised, so that the idea that they object to it is somewhat misleading. Promoting a Centre of Catholic Medical Excellence, as proposed by Cardinal Hume, is not something that can be achieved overnight but at least, can we not get the Hospital, like some great liner, pointing in the right direction and avoiding future ethical icebergs? The vast majority of the work can continue as before but one could begin to promote some medical activities such as natural family planning and Naprotechnology. Help could be given to the Lejeune Clinic for children suffering from Down's Syndrome. There is a whole host of matters that could be considered on a prudent basis. Catholic Doctors and health care workers could be encouraged to work here. It would be useful for instance to ensure that the Hospice is properly organised to deal with any challenges that arise from the Mental Capacity Act concerning euthanasia.
The implementation of a specifically Catholic approach to health care would be a great marketing plus and an example to others. Surely this is the way ahead and above all we need prayers for all concerned – so please let us have those prayers!
At the same time write to give your views to the Charity Commission inquiry:
The Charity Commission,
PO Box 1227,
Secretary to the Group Nicolas J Bellord