Interviewed by Henry Tobias Jones
For those commemorating the Battle of the Somme, the most bloody battle in British military history, King Edward VII’s Hospital holds a particular significance. Founded in 1899 in the Chelsea residence of two sisters, Agnes and Fanny Keyser, the Hospital has maintained the Keyser’s mission to help and heal soldiers returning from war for over 100 years. The then Prince of Wales, and later King Edward VII offered his patronage to the Hospital after a conversation with his friends in which he decided “something had to be done about the poor wounded soldiers returning from the Second Boer War.”
Today, the Hospital’s new Director of Fundraising, Tim Brawn, is the man responsible for protecting and ensuring King Edward VII’s wishes. “The Hospital was created as a response to a problem,” Mr Brawn tells me, pointing to the fact that modernising war was creating far more frequent and devastating injuries. “King Edward VII’s Hospital really moved with the times,” he explains, “when the First World War came along the Hospital was required more than ever.”
During the Battle of the Somme, 19,000 British soldiers died on the first day alone. King Edward VII’s Hospital treated many victims of the battle including most notably “Harold Macmillan, the one day future Prime Minister, who was nursed at the Hospital after sustaining severe injuries” at the Somme. During World War Two, the Hospital was even bombed and moved to its current home on Beaumont Street as a result of private funding. In the Hospital’s reception a Union flag is displayed, the same flag that flew outside the tent of Viscount Montgomery on Lüneburg Heath on the day that Germany surrendered, marking the illustrious role the Hospital played in the bloodiest period of human history.
The Hospital is now London’s leading private hospital, based in Marylebone. However, despite being just around the corner from the riches of Harley Street, King Edward VII’s Hospital is rare as both a private hospital and a non-for-profit charity. As Mr Brawn says: “In a sense charity runs through everything we do.” Rather than making a profit to return a dividend to shareholders, “any extra money we raise and make is reinvested into the Hospital in terms of equipment and grants to service people.”
These grants represent the noble legacy of a British institution giving back to the men and women who have fought, protected, and often suffered for our country. And King Edward VII’s Hospital’s commitment to military personnel is only growing stronger. “We are creating a ‘Centre of Excellence’ in the Hospital,” Mr Brawn says, “and the centre for us is Veteran’s Healthcare.”
While in America ‘vets’ are much more commonplace, the average Briton might not immediately think of themselves as a veteran, but for Mr Brawn and King Edward VII’s Hospital: “a veteran is anyone who has served in the Armed Forces for more than one day.” He tells me about the numerous times ex-service people who may now be police officers, doctors, or business people, have been surprised when he refers to them as veterans. But in King Edward VII’s Hospital, the term veteran is not just a classification. As part of the ‘Centre of Excellence’, all veterans, their spouses, ex-spouses, and widows/widowers are entitled to a 20% discount on their treatment, and they can apply for a means-tested grant which can entitle them to as much as 100% off medical care in the Hospital.
As London’s leading private hospital, King Edward VII’s Hospital offers an exceptional level of service to its patients, with four nurses to every patient and some of the top surgeons and practitioners in the world. As Mr Brawn tells me, the veteran’s grants are often “misunderstood by people who don’t feel entitled to ask for help from us.” People who might have “gone on to live successful lives in other professions is great,” Mr Brawn tells me, “but the fact that they have served is good enough for us, and we want to help them.”
“For example, the widow of a Korean war veteran who needs a shoulder replacement, or a Gulf War veteran who needs a hip replacement, or even an Iraq War triple amputee who needs pain management treatment.” King Edward VII’s Hospital offers a whole range of speciality treatments from orthopaedics, to plastic surgery, women’s health, and neurology. “We are dealing with the many issues that veterans and their families deal with” Mr Brawn says “and all of the complex issues which can arise that non-military hospitals might not be so aware of.”
“People may find that their treatment on the NHS is taking too long, or they might just equally want to avail themselves of fantastic treatment for free in London’s leading private hospital” he tells me, adding “it’s almost too good to be true.”
Another way in which the Hospital is launching itself even further into its mission to help military personnel is the creation of a Veteran’s Health Research Centre, on behalf of COBSEO (The Confederation of Service Charities) which will see the Hospital “become an international repository for veteran’s health, pooling research in the UK from countries all over the world like Israel, Australia, and the US.” With the help of generous donations, which the Hospital and it’s patients still need, King Edward VII’s Hospital will become a vital international resource for ensuring that veterans’ health research is driven onwards and upwards, as it so urgently needs to be. “Everything we are doing is just our way of thanking the people who have served the nation,” Mr Brawn says to me, before telling me the story of his own father, who “died 16 years ago but escaped from a Prisoner of War (POW) camp by walking through the Alps in the middle of winter, becoming one of just 200 people to survive of the 700 who went in.” “And despite all this he never spoke badly of the war” Mr Brawn adds, “he went on to work his way up to being the branch manager of the Royal Exchange in London, and did he see himself as a veteran? No, but he was a veteran. He was my superhero.”
“If I had been working at King Edward VII’s Hospital when he needed surgeries” Mr Brawn says, “I could have got him into the Hospital for some great treatment.” He concludes, rather sweetly, “when you meet veterans and you see what they’ve done, you think ‘wow, what a great cause’ and the fact that we can give these people free operations is simply amazing.”