‘A cul­ture of kind­ness’

Katy Bir­chall tells the story of King Ed­ward VII’S hos­pi­tal

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

When the Sec­ond Boer War broke out in 1899, wealthy so­cialite Agnes Keyser asked her friend, the then Prince of Wales, what she could do to help. ‘Why not con­vert your house into a hos­pi­tal for wounded of­fi­cers when they are re­turned to this coun­try?’ he replied. her lack of nurs­ing ex­pe­ri­ence swiftly deemed in­signif­i­cant, Agnes and her sis­ter, Fanny, set to work con­vert­ing their house in Grosvenor Cres­cent, Lon­don SW1.

Within just weeks of the fu­ture King’s sug­ges­tion, Sis­ter Agnes hos­pi­tal opened its doors to of­fi­cer ca­su­al­ties from South Africa. Greet­ing ev­ery pa­tient her­self as they ar­rived and al­ways mak­ing a point of be­ing there to hold their hand when they went un­der gas for an op­er­a­tion, Sis­ter Agnes was renowned for her un­wa­ver­ing de­vo­tion to her pa­tients—‘my boys’, as she af­fec­tion­ately called them.

From the mo­ment you step through the doors of what is now King ed­ward VII’S hos­pi­tal, based in Beau­mont Street, Maryle­bone, Lon­don W1—the monarch of­fi­cially gave it his name in 1904—you have no doubt that the spirit of its founder lives on there. The hos­pi­tal it­self feels more like a charm­ing bou­tique ho­tel, with its stained-glass win­dows, open fire­places and a cosy li­brary, but it’s the po­lite, at­ten­tive staff that re­ally make it.

‘ev­ery pa­tient is roy­alty here—a king for the day,’ en­thuses Tim Brawn, the di­rec­tor of fundrais­ing and vet­er­ans’ health. ‘We are a dy­namic, for­ward-think­ing hos­pi­tal, but we’re also tra­di­tional in that man­ners are very im­por­tant to us. In their in­duc­tions, mem­bers of staff are taught the cor­rect forms of ad­dress and we very much have a cul­ture of kind­ness. The hos­pi­tal is quintessen­tially British: un­der­stated and po­lite. There re­ally is nowhere else like it.’

Dot­ted around the hos­pi­tal are re­minders of its re­mark­able his­tory. A plaque above the li­brary door notes that it was there, in 1963, that Prime Min­is­ter harold Macmil­lan gave his res­ig­na­tion to The Queen. On a cor­ri­dor wall hangs the framed Union Flag flown on Lüneb­urg heath at the sur­ren­der of the Ger­man army in 1945. Do­nated to the hos­pi­tal by for­mer pa­tient Field Mar­shal Lord Mont­gomery of Alamein, this is a mov­ing nod to what King ed­ward VII’S means to those who are treated here.

Fa­mous for be­ing the Royal Fam­ily’s pri­vate hos­pi­tal of choice, it’s also a reg­is­tered char­ity com­mit­ted to the Armed Forces. Mem­bers and their spouses au­to­mat­i­cally re­ceive a dis­count and the hos­pi­tal of­fers life-chang­ing mil­i­tary grants that can cover up to 100% of treat­ment fees. At its Cen­tre for Vet­er­ans’ health, the pain-man­age­ment pro­gramme has been hugely suc­cess­ful, sup­port­ing vet­er­ans strug­gling with per­sis­tent pain and sub­se­quent men­tal is­sues.

‘I was as­ton­ished when my ap­pli­ca­tion for a grant was ap­proved and I found my­self with The Queen’s or­thopaedic sur­geon,’ says Col John hughes-wil­son, who served in the British Army’s In­tel­li­gence Corps for 30 years and needed op­er­a­tions on both knees. ‘King ed­ward VII’S rev­o­lu­tionised my qual­ity of life.’

In fact, the only in­con­ve­nience was too much com­fort, he in­sists. ‘The ex­pen­sive bed moved reg­u­larly to pre­vent bed­sores. I’m a light sleeper and had to ask for it to be changed be­cause it woke me up ev­ery 10 min­utes.’

Caro­line Cas­sels, who started at the hos­pi­tal as a ju­nior staff nurse, has now been

The hos­pi­tal is quintessen­tially British: un­der­stated and po­lite

ma­tron here for 24 years. ‘I feel im­mensely priv­i­leged to have looked af­ter First World War vet­er­ans,’ she says. ‘One of my old air­men once showed me his fly­ing log book. He’d taken some girls out for a joyride and got into ter­ri­ble trou­ble be­cause he man­aged to crash the plane into the prim­i­tive fence as he landed. It was won­der­ful to read.

‘Many of them were so mod­est, too. I’d be as­ton­ished by their obit­u­ar­ies, which would de­tail their brav­ery parachut­ing be­hind en­emy lines and things like that. They’d never talked about it.’

The only hos­pi­tal in the coun­try in which con­sul­tants have to be in­vited to prac­tise, King Ed­ward VII’S has a long­stand­ing rep­u­ta­tion for its ex­cel­lent nurs­ing staff. For Miss Cas­sels, it’s the be­spoke care of­fered to each pa­tient that makes the hos­pi­tal truly spe­cial. ‘I’ve been able to be the nurse I al­ways wanted to be. We get to know ev­ery­one as an in­di­vid­ual and make sure they’re re­ally well cared for. It’s all the lit­tle things that make such a big dif­fer­ence to our pa­tients and their re­cov­ery.’

She high­lights the food served here as an ex­am­ple. The chef pro­duces a ro­tat­ing menu that could ri­val that of a high-end restau­rant —not to men­tion the wine, pro­vided by Berry Bros & Rudd—and adapt­ing it for an in­di­vid­ual is never a prob­lem.

‘We looked af­ter a young man who had stepped on an im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vice. He lost a leg and the knee joint in his good leg needed re­plac­ing,’ re­mem­bers Miss Cas­sels. ‘When he was re­cov­er­ing, I no­ticed he was be­ing a bit funny with his food, so asked him what he re­ally wanted. “I just fancy egg and chips,” he said. So, that was that. We got him a good, hearty plate of egg and chips.’

De­ter­mined to stay at the fore­front of med­i­cal care, the hos­pi­tal is ex­pand­ing and devel­op­ment plans in the works in­clude a new out-pa­tient fa­cil­ity and a cen­tre for women’s health. ‘It’s an ex­cit­ing time for us,’ en­thuses chief ex­ec­u­tive Lind­sey Con­dron.

‘We’re em­bark­ing on a re­de­vel­op­ment that will of­fer our pa­tients the whole pack­age. Not only op­er­a­tions, but nu­tri­tion, mo­bil­i­sa­tion and well­ness. The pa­tient is at the heart of ev­ery­thing we do.’

With a res­o­lute fo­cus on rais­ing funds for com­plex sur­gi­cal pro­ce­dures, the char­ity is hop­ing to dou­ble its ca­pac­ity to pro­vide mil­i­tary grants. ‘We’re pas­sion­ate about the sup­port we give to the vet­eran com­mu­nity. It’s fun­da­men­tal to who we are,’ Mrs Con­dron con­cludes. ‘Pa­tients, staff, ev­ery­one in­volved: we’re all aligned to the same vi­sion and the same val­ues. There’s a deep love for this hos­pi­tal.’ Sis­ter Agnes would be proud. King Ed­ward VII’S Hos­pi­tal (020–7486 4411; www.kinged­ward­vii.co.uk)

Left: Sis­ter Agnes Keyser, founder of King Ed­ward VII’S Hos­pi­tal. Above: Mar­garet Thatcher leaves the hop­si­tal in 1986

From left to right: The em­blems of the Royal Navy, the Army, the Royal Air Force and the Mer­chant Navy are in re­cep­tion

Field Mar­shal Lord Bernard Mont­gomery of Alamein was a pa­tient in 1955

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