GP surgery will defy ban on contraception

A DOCTORS' surgery is to move into a Roman Catholic hospital in St John s Wood – despite moves to ban GPs from handing out contraception

Susanna Wilkey

A DOCTORS' surgery is to move into a Roman Catholic hospital in St John's Wood - despite moves to ban GPs from handing out contraception.

Although the board of the hospital of St John and St Elizabeth has agreed to implement a new hardline Catholic code of ethics, the NHS surgery is still planning to set up shop there.

The code bans doctors from referring abortions, providing contraception, carrying out IVF treatment or amniocentesis, which is used to detect Down's syndrome in unborn children.

Turmoil has engulfed the private hospital on Grove End Road in St John's Wood since the board agreed the new code in November with two board members and the chairman resigning over the affair.

Because it is part of the NHS, the GP practice will be obliged to provide the full range of family planning services - something campaigners say is unacceptable.

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Chairman Nicolas Bellord is the chairman of the Restituta Group, which wants the hospital to return to its Catholic roots. He said: "The board had voted to proceed with allowing the entrance of the medical practice into the former Convent of Mercy on January 14 2008 in order to provide referrals for abortion, the full range of contraceptive services, in total disregard of the code of ethics which they had accepted at their previous meeting, albeit not to be implemented "just yet".

"We think there is a contradiction there and we are very disappointed. We are now hoping that the Charity Commission will take some action."

The commission is responsible for making sure that charities act within the law and as they were set up to do.

A spokesman for the commission said: "We are actively engaged with the charity that operates the hospital and the Brampton Trust about the redevelopment and surrounding issues.

"We have also been contacted by the Restituta Group and we're currently in discussion with them regarding their request."

The decision to adopt the new code of ethics came after intense pressure from the hospital's patron, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, and Catholic action groups.

If the GP surgery does not go ahead, many believe the hospital could now face financial ruin and may have to be sold.

The hospital, which is a favourite with celebrity mums such as Emma Thompson and Cate Blanchett, delayed the decision on the new code, which was released in May, in the face of opposition from doctors and executives who allegedly threatened to quit if it went ahead.

The hospital was founded in 1856 by the Church and was run by the Sisters of Mercy, an order which worked with Florence Nightingale in the Crimean war.