If you are a resident of East London with a query about sexual health, it is very likely that you will find your way to the Ambrose King Sexual Health Centre. For many years, the centre was known as the ‘Whitechapel Clinic’. It was renamed in the 1980s in honour of Ambrose King, the man who ensured the survival of sexual health clinics throughout the UK. Here, we take a look at the life of this extraordinary man, who did so much for the health of so many people, both in this country and world-wide.
Ambrose King was born in Hackney in 1902, to a family of doctors who all specialised in sexual health. He followed in their footsteps, first studying medicine and then specialising in what was then called ‘venereal disease’. He stayed local to East London, taking a position at the London Hospital on Whitechapel Road.
It took real dedication to enter this area of medicine at that time – sexual health care needs were widely misunderstood and services weren’t well funded. Often patients needed to be seen in rundown premises or even in brothels King was determined to tackle the stigma that existed at the time and change the way sexual health care was seen.
Sexual health got noticed during the Second World War. All of a sudden there were manpower shortages, as high numbers of soldiers found themselves in need of urgent sexual health care. King was called upon by The War Office (and even the US government) to help tackle the problem and he was soon promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and temporarily moved to Southampton to work at the Netley Military Hospital.2
After the War, Ambrose returned home to East London and the London Hospital. His department attracted many new doctors, including many postgraduate students from overseas. Throughout his life, Ambrose trained many specialists who went on to achieve great things in the field.
His achievements kept mounting up after the war. He was a consultant to the Government,1 and was a UK representative of the World Health Organisation. He was also President of numerous medical committees. He was the first person to start contact tracing health advisors in East London and introduced the idea that needles needed to be sterilised between STI patients to protect their health.
He was a devout Catholic. But his traditional beliefs never prevented him from promoting the highest standards of care for everyone who needed them. This was recognised by the Pope, who awarded King a Knighthood of the Holy Sepulchre.
Sexual health care in the UK has completely changed since the days when Ambrose King set out on his career journey. It is unlikely that he could once have envisioned the lovely, warm and welcoming atmosphere of the Ambrose King centre. Ambrose died a few years ago but we think he would be proud both of the facilities that are here in his name, and of the way that people in East London can now easily access the sexual health care they need here at All East. We think his dedication and commitment to his community has paved the way for a happier, healthier East London.
Thank you, Ambrose!