Campaigners argue that lease for GP's practice will ensure that abortion referrals continue in spite of top-level interventions to end abuses
BY MARK GREAVES
DOCTORS who are obliged under their NHS contract to prescribe the morning-after pill and refer patients for abortion will be allowed to work on the premises of a Catholic hospital, it was claimed this week.
St John and St Elizabeth hospital in St John's Wood, North London, last month signed the lease for an NHS GP practice to operate on its Brampton House site.
The move jeopardises the efforts of Cardinal Cormac MurphyO'Connor to bring the hospital back in line with Church teachings on human life and sexual morality.
Last March the Cardinal called on the hospital, founded in 1856 and originally run by the Sisters of Mercy, to tighten up its Catholic ethos and revise its code of ethics after receiving a report from Catholic peer Lord Brennan into practices there. But a new code of ethics has failed to materialise.
The hospital's ethics committee was disbanded last summer and a new committee whose members include Auxiliary Bishop George Stack of Westminster, Canon Michael Brockie and Fr John Wilson was set up in its place. None of its decisions has been made public.
St John's Wood Medical Practice, the NHS centre planning to move into Brampton House an El 1 million redevelopment will be bound under the terms of the lease to follow the hospital's code.
But under its contract with the Primary Care Trust the practice will also be forced to refer patients for abortion and provide the morn ing-after pill. If the practice is found not to comply with the hospital's code of ethics it will be given one year's notice to close. If a revised code of ethics has been introduced and the practice fails to comply with this new code, the notice would be extended to two years.
Nicolas Belford, secretary of the Restituta Group, which is campaigning for the hospital to keep its Catholic identity, said the decision to allow an NHS practice to work at Brampton House was made in "direct defiance" of the Cardinal's letter. "Unless action is taken now we will be in the position, by the summer of 2007, where the leading Catholic hospital in Britain will be providing a full abortion referral and family planning service," he said.
Mr Bellord added that he feared that the hospital would abandon its Catholic constitution under the Charities Act 2006, which allows charities to change their ethos according to current "social and economic circumstances".
The maternity unit of St John and St Elizabeth Hospital has become popular among celebrities living in the fashionable area of St John's Wood, Hampstead and Primrose Hill. Celebrities such as Cate Blanchett and Emma Thompson have given birth there.
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, a patron of the hospital and a trustee of Brampton House, issued his warning after an inquiry concluded that the hospital was violating the Catholic principles on which it was founded.
The hospital was, it emerged, performing the late stages of sex change operations on women as well as referring patients for abortion.
"A hospital which is Catholic in name and ethos must invest time and energy in its ethical as well as in its clinical governance," the Cardinal said in a letter to the hospital's chairman Lord Bridgeman.
The Cardinal argued that everyone who worked in the hospital must "accept the tensions and conflicts between Catholic moral teaching and contemporary secular medical practice".
He said that, as a Catholic hospital "with a distinct vision of what is truly in the interests of human persons-, it could not offer the range of services that secular society believed was in the patients' best interests. He added that tests for foetal deformities should not be carried out at the hospital if positive results would lead the mother to seek an abortion.
The hospital issued a guarded response to the Cardinal's statement. "We accept Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor's recommendation," Lord Bridgeman said in his reply. "Any revision of the code will take into account the Cardinal's views in addition to the hospital's existing legal, medical and charitable obligations."
A spokesman for the Westminster archdiocese acknowledged this week that a revised code of ethics was one of the demands the Cardinal made last year. "The ethics committee is currently revising the code and I'm sure that anything that happens in the hospital will be subject to the code that the committee puts in place," he said.