Health review offers hope for Bart's

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The Independent Online
The possibility of a reprieve for St Bartholomew's hospital, one of London's oldest medical institutions, arose yesterday as the Government announced the membership of the panel appointed to review health services in the capital.

The review, disclosed in The Independent last month, will reconsider the closure of Bart's and other London hospitals planned by the last government. Announcing the review in the Commons yesterday, Frank Dobson, Secretary of State for Health, said there would be a moratorium on further closures until the report was completed. It is expected by October.

The review is to be chaired by Sir Leslie Turnberg, outgoing president of the Royal College of Physicians and a critic of the NHS internal market. Sir Leslie is known to believe lack of planning under the market has undermined the NHS's capacity to meet local needs.

The five-member panel includes Brian Jarman, professor of general practice at Imperial College and one of the most vociferous critics of the previous government's plans for the capital's hospitals.

Professor Jarman argued that the 1992 review of London's health services by Sir Bernard Tomlinson, on which the closure plans were based, was flawed because it failed to take account of the shortage of geriatric beds in the capital.

The number of hospital beds has fallen faster in London than elsewhere over the last decade but the number of patients treated from outside the capital has increased, counter to expectations when the NHS internal market was introduced in 1991, according to studies by the Kings Fund, the independent health policy think tank.

Professor Jarman said the closure of beds and hospitals in London had already gone too far and should be halted, a view later adopted by the Kings Fund, which had earlier argued in favour of more hospital closures.

The review panel has been asked to look particularly at the future of Bart's and two other hospitals where closure plans have provoked fierce local opposition. These are Queen Mary's, Roehampton and Oldchurch, and Harold Wood, in Romford, Essex.

Bart's accident and emergency unit was closed last year and the entire hospital is due to shut within five years as remaining departments are moved to the Royal London hospital at Whitechapel.

However, the move depends on the Royal London securing a pounds 300m deal to redevelop the Whitechapel site under the Private Finance Initiative.

Although it is unlikely that the panel will recommend the reopening of the Barts casualty department, it is expected to take a searching look at the costs involved in redeveloping the Royal London in order to close Bart's.

Guy's hospital is due to lose its accident and emergency department by the end of the decade but was not specifically mentioned in yesterday's announcement as there are no plans to close it. It will continue to treat in-patients and out-patients in association with St Thomas', which will take over the accident and emergency work for the two hospitals.

Stephen Dorrell, former Tory health secretary, condemned as "completely absurd" Mr Dobson's decision to announce the review in a statement to the Commons on a Friday, when many MPs are in their constituencies. "Is it because you recognise that yet another review of London's health care services is the very last thing they need? It's a cheap election gimmick," he said.