WHEN is a hospital not a hospital?
It seems the answer, as anyone who has recently visited historic St Luke’s Hospital will tell you, is when it is mainly closed.
The New Journal found dark, empty buildings with signs marked “closed” when our reporters visited its stately grounds.
But the listed building’s owners, Camden and Islington Foundation Trust, insist the hospital “is open” and they have no current plans to sell the valuable property.
Although it is located in Muswell Hill, in Haringey, St Luke’s Hospital has historically been a main port of call for Camden’s mentally ill patients.
Bloomsbury Labour Councillor Penny Abraham said: “Last week I visited St Luke’s Hospital, and found that the main part of the site is closed, despite protestations by the Foundation Trust that it is open.
“Presumably they wish to avoid the legally required public consultation on closure of NHS sites.”
While parts of the hospital – including the occupational therapy unit, administration office and staff accommodation – remain open, the hospital’s three main acute wards, dining room, Leawood Day hospital and psychiatric intensive care unit are locked shut.
St Luke’s Woodside Hospital was designed by architect Sir John Soane and opened in 1751 as only the country’s second “hospital for lunatics”.
Serial killer Anthony Hardy was released from St Luke’s shortly before murdering two women in 2002, but despite the bad press that came from the murder, the hospital was still celebrated by those who use it.
Behind its impressive 18th-century facade are three acres of private gardens, where patients could sit and collect their thoughts in peace.
Former patients have told the New Journal how the tranquil gardens were prized “above anything else” Camden’s mental providers have.
Scott Stephens, a former governor on the Foundation Trust, added: “It is the best therapeutic environment service-users have. The trust has spent huge amounts of money elsewhere. It must be because they want to sell the hospital off. The great tragedy is that, once closed, it will never be reopened.”
The Foundation Trust, which owns the freehold to the building, has been moving nursing staff and beds to a brand new Montague Ward in St Pancras Hospital over the past two years.
The Trust argues this has vastly improved the service they provide to mental health patients and that they would never close St Luke’s without consultation.
Chief executive Wendy Wallace said: “Montague Ward has been designed around the needs of service users, improving their privacy, safety and comfort and more than doubling common space. We are actively considering a number of options for St Luke’s, including significant reinvestment, and will consult on these when we have worked up formal proposals.”
Ms Wallace will unveil a programme of cuts believed to be in the region of £18million over three years at a board meeting today (Thursday).