Sell-off plan for hospital mired in abortion row

THE ABORTION row that has plagued a St John s Wood hospital could eventually lead to it being sold off and turned into flats

Susanna Wilkey

THE ABORTION row that has plagued a St John's Wood hospital could eventually lead to it being sold off and turned into flats.

An NHS family doctors surgery moved onto the site of the hospital of St John and St Elizabeth on Grove End Road in January, offering the full range of family planning services.

But the practice is at odds with the Catholic ethics of the hospital and has caused such concern that plans to sell-off the whole hospital are now being discussed.

Leader of Westminster Council, Sir Simon Milton, however, has written to Lord Charles Guthrie, chairman of the hospital board, to say he will resist such a move.

He said he would 'strongly welcome his reassurance that the health services provided will be safeguarded in their current form.'

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He also warned that the council's planning department would be opposed to the site being redeveloped into expensive flats.

The hospital has been embroiled in a row since last summer after the introduction of a new code of ethics calling for staff to comply with the church's teachings.

Months of infighting and resignations followed at the private Catholic hospital which is a favourite with celebrity mums such as Kate Moss and Cate Blanchett.

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

The arrival of the 9,000 patient NHS surgery, which regularly breaks the code, provoked outrage among campaigners who want the hospital returned to Catholicity.

Westminster Council has now seen a private memo detailing the possibility of selling off the hospital.

Sir Simon's letter said: "The council very much values the services provided by the hospital, which are seen by local people as an essential part of the healthcare for this part of the city.

"The hospice and in-patient beds serve a wider population of north-west London and I understand the hospice provides care for over 600 people each year and a home care service to an even greater number.

"Westminster residents also use the 42 dialysis beds on site and the hospital has been essential in helping Westminster Primary Care Trust ensure prompt treatment for local residents as it is able to purchase treatments for the hospital when waiting times in NHS facilities become too long.

"I know that there is also a newly built GP practice and NHS Nursing Home for older people on site which are also almost exclusively used by Westminster residents."

Nicolas Bellord, director of the Restituta Group which led the campaign against the GP's surgery said: "I know that the selling of the hospital has been mooted as an option. But that would involve a tremendous amount of complication.

"It is the most unholy mess and it was a fatal mistake to allow the surgery to move in in the first place - it is a Catholic hospital and they have got themselves into an impossible situation."