Death of a rumour at Matilda Hospital

The pricey Matilda Hospital on Hong Kong’s Peak is over 100 years old. It has long been particularly dear to a certain type of British woman in Hong Kong, probably because it is where they traditionally give birth, munching away on Marmite as they push one more time before the doctor puts another 50% on the bill and does a caesarian so he can make his golf game.

According to a rumour in some rarefied expat circles, the Matilda’s Board of Trustees is trying to run the hospital into the ground through neglect and mismanagement. They are doing so because several of them are representatives of property giants who have their eyes on redeveloping the site to make billions from using it for luxury apartments. This is a frightening prospect for some of Hong Kong’s white residents because Matilda is one of the few hospitals in the Big Lychee that carries decent quantities of rhesus negative blood, which courses through the veins of many Westerners but virtually no Asians. End of rumour.

First, it is true that Swire man Robert Cutler appears as chairman on one version of the Board of Trustees; then again he doesn’t on another. Either way, by Hong Kong standards this seems to be a board almost embarrassingly lacking in noticeable property interests. The number-two guy, Robert Grool, is in shipping. Mary Rafferty is the hospital’s CEO. (The hospital itself seems to regard the identity of its trustees a state secret, at least for website purposes.)

Second, assuming the board members are all in on this evil plot to run down and redevelop, they would have the Hong Kong government to contend with – at least to the extent that our leaders ever see a redevelopment idea they don’t like. The land would have to be re-zoned for residential rather than non-profit community use. Also, it is official policy to expand private hospital capacity, and the closure of the Matilda would be a setback to hopes of migrating the middle class away from the public sector for standard medical procedures (let alone harebrained dreams of making the Big Lychee a regional healthcare hub).

Third, given the age of Matilda’s main building, any developer would also have heritage enthusiasts to deal with.

Fourth, is the place really going downhill in terms of management, finances or patient care? Some institutions, especially those much loved by remnants of colonial times, are always crumbling – and in many cases have been ever since the late 1840s. A quick glance around one nest of whining expats shows no recent surge in disgruntlement about Matilda or anywhere else. Could one unhappy customer be the origin of the malicious tale? Fiona the highly strung, maid-terrorizing Brit housewife whose baby is three days overdue has a fit because of burnt toast in her private sea-view room with balcony, and nice-but-dim husband Tim concocts a conspiracy theory that does the rounds during seasonal gatherings. Reputational risk is never more than a heartbeat away.

(Not that I care one way or the other about the Matilda, which I have no doubt has the same dedication to public service and value for money as, say, the Pacific Gourmet deli on Caine Road with its handful-size HK$100 bags of sea salt. Anyone paying those fees knows they are supporting some of the most overpaid and grasping doctors on earth who will, the second anything goes wrong, bundle you off to the public Queen Mary’s where they know how to sort out the difficult stuff.)

The rumour is not total fiction, however. The last part about ethnicity and the rhesus factor must be true because it says so in Wikipedia and would seem to be of special interest to any Basques in town. But the (once whites-only) Matilda does not seem to have a special, exclusive store of ‘gwailo blood’; nor need we worry about Westerners being left in the lurch should they need a transfusion. Hong Kong’s official blood website cheerily implies that while they want donations, they have everyone covered, including the one in 370 Chinese/one in seven Caucasians who are rhesus negative – though of course maybe that’s what they want us to think. I take comfort in the thought that there are far more efficient ways of exterminating all foreigners in Hong Kong if they really want to. That and I’m rhesus positive (let’s face it, even among Westerners Rh-negative is mainly confined to six-fingered mutants).

For the record, in the interests of full disclosure, I am type O: agreeable, sociable, optimistic, it hardly needs to be said.

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9 Responses to Death of a rumour at Matilda Hospital

  1. Stephen says:

    The Matilda – one of staples of HK expatriate life like the Pro China Morning Post, RTHK Radio 3, Hemlock …

  2. Doctor Deli says:

    Talking of blood, old sausage, it’s $166 for a black pudding at the Pacific Gourmet Deli. Bloody heck! Perhaps it’s made exclusively from the Rh(neg) variety. Anyhow, at that rate, the only salt I’m likely to need is smelling salt.

  3. Phyllis Stein says:

    There is a direct relationship between blood type and social position. I am a rare beta minus. I think I will have to stop reading such low class blogs.

  4. Dr No says:

    The problems are Matilda are alluded to here:

    Separately, we just tried to book for a July delivery at 9 weeks and we were flat out turned down at Matilda. No waiting list, just a flat out rejection. We were quite surprised as we had confirmed blood tests and booked at the earliest possible chance – they took a month to turn us down and leave us looking elsewhere.

  5. gunlaw says:

    This rumour has been doing the rounds since Fung King Hey’s heyday.

    Substitute The Helena May, Ladies Recreation Club, Kowloon Cricket Club, Hong Kong Club and so on and the story’s the same. The FCC’s plot ratio is naff so it doesn’t count.

    The only club to have handed back its premises to the Government for redevelopment is the defunct Island Squash Rackets Club. There was rush for membership applications just beforehand, I believe.

  6. smog says:

    As one of the O- six-fingered mutants, I feel it’s about time the Blood Transfusion service relaxed the stupid rule refusing to take blood from anyone who lived in the UK for more than 3 months in the period 1980-1996 (or for more than 5 years in Europe since 1980). They complain that they don’t have enough Rh- blood and then they exclude a large proportion of the potential donors on the basis of at most a minuscule theoretical risk of something which has never been found to occur in reality.

    Oh, and anyone who has ever had any venereal disease is permanently excluded. That’s madness as well.

    And anyone who has paid for sex in the last 12 months. Bit of a limitation for gweilos that one too.

  7. Longtimenosee says:

    Born at the Matilda myself, as was my own baby…I would quote the good Hemlock himself “Being rich is not about what you can buy, but about choices.” Or something like that.

    I choose to let my wife’s insurance pay the bill!

  8. Vile Traveller says:

    What, ask Hong Kong not to act “on the basis of at most a minuscule theoretical risk of something which has never been found to occur in reality”?!

    Why, that would shake our society to the very basis of its foundations! EVERYTHING is done on the basis of at most a minuscule theoretical risk of something which has never been found to occur in reality.

  9. Lazarus says:

    Whatever the treatment of pregger expats, wounded warriors from HK’s tripod factions can count on a better bedside manner. A nurse told me that M is a favoured place of healing battered red poles.

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