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West End Extra - by JAMIE WELHAM
Published: 9 January 2009
Catholic hospital ‘misled’ Charity Commission

THE fashionable Catholic Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth misled the Charity Commission over plans to allow doctors to refer women for abortions, a damning report has revealed.
The findings of a nine-month inquiry by the charity regulator are severely critical of the former board of the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth, St John’s Wood, north London.
But Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor is largely exonerated because the findings show how he strived to retain the Catholic identity of the hospital and resisted efforts to sell it.
Two doctors resigned after Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor drew up a revision to the code of ethics, stopping abortion referrals and offers of contraception on the site.
The row began when the private hospital began searching for extra money to pay for a £12million redevelopment.
The Charity Commission’s report, released at the end of last month, said executives misled them as they gained permission to sub-let part of the facility to a GP practice – a move which would have brought in thousands of pounds in rent.
It said some board members had given assurances that the St John’s Wood Medical Practice would comply with the hospital’s code of ethics, even though it was known at an early stage that the doctors moving in intended to prescribe contraceptives and the morning-after pill, and to refer patients for abortions.
The board had submitted a draft sub-lease to the commission which said the GPs would abide by Catholic teaching but ?later changed the terms without telling anyone.
The commissioner’s report said: “The inquiry found that the hospital board had misled the Commission over the terms of the then draft sub-lease and the GP practice’s ability to comply with the code of ethics.
“The severity of this issue was reflected by the need to open the inquiry and revealed serious governance issues which subsequently led to resignations from the hospital board.”
The board had earlier rejected advice from commissioners to find alternative tenants to the GP practice. Directors had also ignored the wishes of Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, the hospital’s patron, to implement another revision to the code of ethics, upholding Catholic teaching on the sanctity of human life.
Soon afterwards, the Cardinal demanded the resignations of all but three of the 13 board members and replaced them with a new team.
The report said: “It appeared to the inquiry that the hospital board’s decision to sell the hospital may have been based on its inability to agree an alternative way of resolving the difficulties faced, not because the hospital board considered this to be in the best interests of the hospital charity.”
Commissioners also criticised the board for failing to co-operate with the inquiry and for a lack of transparency. They revealed they had to use their legal powers to force the board to provide information and again to suspend the entry of the GP surgery earlier this year.
The Commission has tried to resolve the problems by advising the new board that staff are legally required to take “reasonable” rather than “all possible” steps to honour the institution’s Catholic character.
Nicolas Bellord, secretary of Restituta, a group campaigning to retain the Catholic identity of the hospital, said the report makes clear that the entry of the GP practice “was only made possible by misleading the Charity Commission itself”.
He said that in terms of Catholic teaching the latest code of ethics was “completely inadequate”, and added: “We are concerned about the Commission’s erroneous interpretation of the objects of the charity suggesting that Catholic doctrine only has to be followed where it is ‘reasonable’ – who decides what is reasonable?”
A spokesman for Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said that “the Cardinal remains, and always has been, committed to the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth operating as a Catholic institution in the delivery of its important healthcare mission based on the teachings of the Catholic Church”.
Andrew Hind, chief executive of the Charity Commission, said it was important for the public to know that when a “serious problem arises and we have a regulatory role, we act to ensure charity assets are protected and charities are put on a proper footing to continue their work”.
He added: “As a result of the Charity Commission’s intervention and the work done by the board of the St John and Elizabeth Charity, the charity is better positioned to secure a viable future.”
A hospital spokesman said: “Any problems are now historic.
“The hospital has a new board and has now moved on.”

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