ST LUKE’S Hospital for the Clergy in Fitzroy Square, London, is to be sold. Its trustees are to concentrate on meeting the health-care needs of clergy “closer to their parishes”, they announced on Saturday.
The hospital, which is a charity, was founded in 1892, and celebrated its centenary in its current location with a service at St Paul’s Cathedral last year. It reopened in March 2007 after a large-scale refurbishment which cost about £3 million.
The 16-bed hospital provides free treatment to Anglican clergy, their spouses, widows, widowers, and children, members of religious orders, overseas missionaries, licensed theological students and their families, and licensed lay workers. It has 224 honorary consultants, who come from all faiths, and who operate without charge. It also relies on voluntary donations.
The chairman of trustees, Patrick Mitford-Slade, said that the hospital needed to “stay relevant” and to change the way it operated. “It has become clear that running a very small hospital in central London is no longer the best way to meet the modern health-care needs of clergy.
“But there is also a financial imperative for changing. Running a small central-London hospital for the benefit of very few clergy is becoming increasingly expensive, and no longer offers value for money for our donors.
“Thanks to the shortage of private hospital beds in central London, we can now get a good return on the investment we have made in modernising the hospital in recent years, and be in a position to do a better job delivering health-care to the clergy on a local basis.”
The hospital’s chief executive, Merrick Willis, said it needed to focus on the “best interests of the clergy, and not bricks and mortar in London”. He acknowledged, though, that many people would be saddened by the decision. “People who contributed to the refurbishment can see they helped make the hospital a much more valuable commodity, which allows us to do things differently as part of the sale, so no contributions were wasted.”
Most clergy undergo day surgery at St Luke’s, but Mr Willis said the NHS was able to offer this more quickly now, without the inconvenience of clergy having to travel to London. Also, he said, St Luke’s was limited in the range of operations it could offer, as it did not have a high-dependency unit or intensive-care facilities.
Mr Willis said the trustees were still consulting among bishops about how they could best serve clergy locally, but they already had a psychiatric consultancy service available in the dioceses. “Since we reopened last year, the number of clergy coming through was not anywhere near as many as before. Sometimes we had as few as five operations a week, which is just not cost-effective.
“I’m sure a lot of people will be sad, but the message has to be the aim is to do something more appropriate and better in the future.”
Mr Willis said he hopes to facilitate the continued employment of the hospital’s 40 staff, and confirmed that an exclusivity agreement had been signed with the London Clinic, which also has charitable status. This makes it the preferred bidder for the sale.
Canon Hugh Beavan, Vicar of St Mary’s, Burnham-on-Crouch in Essex, has used St Luke’s on a number of occasions. “St Luke’s offered excellent care,” he said this week. “And it was particularly good for clergy, as it allowed you time to arrange cover for services if you were going to be recuperating — unlike the NHS, which often calls you in at very short notice.
“It seems like a strange time to sell in the current economic climate, but clearly there are financial reasons behind it.”
In September 2004, St Luke’s treated its 100,000th patient. The hospital has an excellent safety record, and has never had an outbreak of MRSA or C. Difficile.