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Safe hospital passes milestone

ST LUKE’s Hospital for the Clergy will take in its 100,000th patient next week. It is a milestone in the history of a charitable hospital that, in the words of its chief executive, John Cherry, “punches above its weight”. Last year was a record one for patient numbers at St Luke’s, which has been judged the safest hospital in the country.

St Luke’s, a 22-bed hospital funded by voluntary donations, was founded in 1892, and has been in Fitzroy Square, central London, since 1907. It gives free treatment to Anglican clergy, their widows and widowers, spouses and children, as well as to Church Army officers, members of religious orders, overseas missionaries, licensed theological students and their families, and licensed lay workers.

It has 224 honorary consultants of all faiths, who operate on clergy patients for no charge. It also has a unique relationship with local NHS hospitals, which enables blood tests, special X-rays and scans, pathology and histology, and the provision of certain drugs to be done for free for UK patients with a National Insurance number.

The number of operations has doubled in recent years; the 2004 total is likely to reach 700. There is a waiting-list of nurses who want to work at the hospital, even though its pay rates are 10-20 per cent lower than those of the NHS.

“It’s a proud boast of the hospital that we get patients back on their knees faster than the NHS can. We get them in quicker, treat them quicker and keep them a bit longer to improve their mobility and fitness when they get back out into the community,” says Mr Cherry.

There are no intensive-care beds at the hospital — a facility that would cost an additional £500,000 a year. This rules out operations such as heart surgery and hip replacements. The three Hs — “hysterectomies, hernias and haemorrhoids” — are defined as acute surgery, but patients transferred to specialist hospitals return to St Luke’s for convalescence after 48 hours.

A care-standards report, due to be published today, judges it the UK’s safest hospital, with no MRSA in the building and a wound-infection rate of 0.02 per cent — the lowest in the country. Mr Cherry says: “We have some significant advantages. We’re a small hospital with our own catering and cleaning staff, and we’ve done a lot in terms of getting dedicated people who want to work here. Top consultants fall in love with the place.”

St Luke’s costs £4000 a day to run and takes private patients to offset the costs. It serves the whole Anglican Communion, and while the conditions for which it treats UK clergy are not immediately life-threatening, treatment can be a matter of life and death for overseas patients who present a dilemma because they have no National Insurance number.

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