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.