£460,000 tax bill for hospital donation philanthropist


A widower who donated £2.3 million to a specialist NHS cancer hospital has been landed with a £460,000 VAT bill, he said today.

Entrepreneur Jimmy Thomas has called for a change in the law to ensure hospitals are exempt from the tax after he funded the refurbishment of the Ellis Ward at the Royal Marsden cancer centre, in Chelsea, west London.

The wealthy 78-year-old donated the cash in tribute to his wife Alma, who was treated at the hospital before she lost her fight with ovarian cancer in 2008.

Mr Thomas, who made millions of pounds through a bingo hall empire across the East Midlands, described the VAT costs as "criminal" and said he had raised his concerns with the Prime Minister.

Mr Thomas, a Conservative party donor, said: "The fact that a world-leading hospital, at the very pinnacle of treatment excellence, should be slammed with a VAT bill just to improve facilities for essential NHS care is criminal. The law must be changed.

"The ward - which had 18 NHS beds and two private rooms - needed so much work to provide the comfort and dignity the patients so badly required, the refurbishment work was classed as a rebuild. And under the law, a rebuild is subject to VAT at 20 per cent.

"I have sat next to David Cameron at lunch and explained this atrocious state of affairs. So far, there has been no response and frankly I am tired of waiting.

"He vowed he would not take money from the sick and vulnerable to fill the financial black hole, and that's exactly what he continues to do."

The Ellis Ward - which provides treatment for female patients - reopens tomorrow following the completion of a one-year rebuilding project.

Mrs Thomas died on New Year's Eve in 2008 at the age of 74. Mr Thomas, the co-founder of the Hippodrome Casino in Leicester Square, London, praised the care given to his wife by Royal Marsden staff but said the hospital was in need of investment.

He said: "Her treatment was excellent and the staff were superb. But the facilities in which they had to work were far from what was required.

"There were two toilets for 16 people, a cup hook for her shower towel, and the beds were so close together doctors had to nudge a neighbouring bed out of the way to pull a privacy curtain into place.

"Alma was embarrassed for the staff at the conditions in which they had to work. At one point she took off her diamond ring and offered it to help change the facilities.

"I decided at that point I would formally offer to raise funds to change the ward to a place where the patients there can have the dignity they are due and the staff the facilities they require."

Mr Thomas has now set up a trust to continue fundraising for the Royal Marsden.

Medical director Professor Martin Gore said: "Here at the Royal Marsden, we are delighted with the new modernisation of Ellis Ward.

"We are grateful to the generosity of Mr Jimmy Thomas and his family, who, by funding the refurbishment of this ward have realised his wife's vision of creating a state-of-the-art unit with a warm and welcoming environment which ensures the highest levels of comfort for NHS patients."

Project leader Paula Reason, of Cadmium Design, said: "Our challenge was to balance the practical with the emotional, which we hope we have achieved through the use of colour and materials that soften the traditional look of a hospital ward.

"Central to the theme was the purple anemone, which was Alma Thomas's favourite flower, which appears throughout the ward.

"Simple elements we have looked at are the bed-heads, handbasins, windows, toilet areas. We hope we have given an element of optical illusion that creates a warm environment where patients can undergo treatment in a safe and inspiring environment."