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October 27, 2010

NHS Trust tries (and finally fails) to ‘divert’ £1 million of a cancer charity’s assets
Filed under: Private Eye — Dr. Phil @ 2:27 pm

Breast cancer centre can open its doors as battling charity worker beats NHS

A charity worker’s seven year long fight to open a centre to provide therapy for breast cancer survivors and their families will finally be won next week, despite a hospital trust’s bid to misappropriate almost £1M of the charity’s assets.

The Primrose Centre in Bromley, Kent will open its doors for the first time on November 11, bringing to an end veteran charity fundraiser Mary Spinks’ long struggle against the bureaucrats of the NHS and Department of Health.

Whilst Mary Spinks, 63, fought to provide a support service helping up to 80 people a week when fully operational, the NHS sought to appropriate the charity’s assets to help balance the books of Bromley’s ailing hospital trust.

The saga began in 2003 when the then Bromley Hospital NHS Trust sold redundant hospital land to a developer. The land included a former hospital chapel built in 1864 which Mary Spinks persuaded the developer to donate as the future home for the breast cancer centre.

A charitable foundation created by Mary Spinks under the umbrella of Bromley Hospitals NHS Trust Charitable Funds became the chapel owner and she began the task of raising the £600,000 needed to convert the building to its new use and help finance its operation.

By September 2007 the work was completed thanks to donations from local and national firms, charitable foundations such as Caron Keating Foundation and Pink Ribbon Foundation and members of the public, local golf clubs, together with help from companies including Marks & Spencer, Phillips and Fired Earth. It only remained to transfer the assets from the foundation run under the umbrella of the hospital charitable funds to the independent charity, the Primrose Centre.

And then came the bombshell. The hospital boss of 2003 had moved on and one of a succession of temporary chief executives claimed both the building and the charity’s funds belonged to the hospital.

“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing: it flew in the face of what we had agreed with the former chief executive,” said Mary Spinks who has raised more than £2M for various health charities since 1985.

“At the same meeting I was told the planned breast screening within the building would not happen as the NHS locally had surplus property it could use, and also the local PCT would not fund the service.”

For three years, the hospital trust, NHS London and the Department of Health stonewalled Mary Spinks’ attempts to restore ownership of the former hospital chapel to the charity.

“Throughout that time all I got was weasel words and promises: I was told it was a technical accounting problem; I was assured that the trust, and later NHS London and the Department of Health were working to try to resolve things in the charity’s favour. In fact, when I got email correspondence released under the Freedom of Information Act, it revealed their efforts were focussed on preventing the transfer of assets to the charity. One email said ‘it would make a desirable dwelling, corporate HQ or some other NHS use’,” said Mrs Spinks.

By July 2008, the hospital was generously offering to lease the former chapel – refurbished with £500,000 raised by the charity – back to the charity for £40,000 a year!

Former health minister Lord Hunt appealed in vain for the intervention of the then Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson. The trustees took a petition on behalf of the charity to No. 10 Downing Street and asked Sarah Brown to help, but to no avail.

Then in October 2009 the pro bono efforts of lawyers Weil, Gotshal & Manges paid off with the granting of a judicial review.

“The part played over three years by the law firm Weil Gotshal & Manges, Richard Drabble QC and the barrister Helen Galley on a pro bono basis cannot be praised enough,” said Mrs Spinks.

The High Court urged a negotiated settlement, but frustration followed as dates for meetings were agreed then cancelled by the NHS side. An April 2010 meeting finally resulted in a proposal from the NHS in June 2010, just four days before the parties were due back before the High Court for a judicial review hearing.

The proposal saw the NHS cave in and grudgingly hand over the former chapel, but it took until 26 September and the threat of further court action to get hold of £184,000 of the charity’s cash, which was being withheld by Bromley Hospital’s new bosses, the South London Healthcare NHS Trust.

After 30 years raising money for charities as well as sitting on bodies such as the Asthma Research Council, National Asthma Campaign Mary Spinks knows a thing or two about the principles underpinning the Big Society – and she’s got a message for David Cameron.

“Backing the Big Society can damage your health. I can’t begin to explain how stressful and distressing the experience has been. The actions of those involved at times stooped to the lowest level. I was so fortunate having the support of the two other trustees and Henry my husband who helped me through three horrid years convincing me the end would be worthwhile. David Cameron needs to sort out the NHS and Department of Health bureaucrats so that people like me can do our bit without the risk of intolerable behaviour by others along the way.”


Note to editors:
The centre’s mission is to provide survivors of breast cancer with support, including a variety of therapies and to help families of sufferers, especially children, with specialist counselling.

Any breast cancer sufferer or survivor or family member is welcome to contact the centre once it opens on November 11. Initially the centre will provide support for up to 18 people a day and will be open three days a week, rising to five days a week.

The centre will serve Greater London, Kent, Surrey and Sussex

Further information:
Mary Spinks can be contacted on 07860 649860
Jonathan Wood of Weil, Gotshal & Manges:0207 903 1000 Tel: 01689 880218

Release issued by:
Bob Schofield 07873 148066