‘A culture of kindness’
Katy Birchall tells the story of King Edward VII’S hospital
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