Letter: Future use of hospital endowments

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The Independent Online
Sir: John Torode ('Whose money is it anyway, Virginia?', 1 June) has identified a very important point, which has now become prominent but has been the case since the advent of the NHS in 1948. The 1946 NHS Act provided that the charitable endowments of the then teaching hospitals were to be freed from charitable trusts, but that those endowments should be used for the original charitable purposes wherever possible.

Since the 1973 NHS Re-organisation Act, the special trustees of these various teaching hospitals have become the charitable trustees of these endowments, which in most instances have been donated over centuries to provide hospitals in these specific localities.

Mr Torode's article and Nigel Siederer's letter (4 June) highlight the situation that has now arisen concerning charitable gifts made for a special project. However, these charitable endowments were also made to provide hospital care for people in the defined geographical localities.

In the case of the Westminster Hospital, the charitable purpose in 1716 was for hospital services for people in South Westminster 'in the fevered area around this Abbey'. Similarly, in the case of Bart's, over nine centuries, the huge charitable endowments were donated to provide a hospital in West Smithfield 'in the City of London'. In addition, there are large charitable endowments for both Guy's and Thomas's for hospitals in their localities. Collectively, these endowments comprise hundreds of millions of public assets.

Had there been no continuing need for such local services then the situation might be different - John Smith's tragic death demonstrated only too vividly the continuing local need. Taking the realities of London traffic into account, such charitable endowments should in law properly continue to be used to support the provision of hospitals in the geographical localities for which the endowments were donated.

Your question has to be answered in the context of charity law: whose money is it? It is public money belonging to the residents and people who frequent the named locality where the need continues.

Yours faithfully,

ALAN MEYER

Halsey Meyer Higgins

(Solicitors)

London, SW1

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