Bart's likely to be spared by ministers

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The Independent Online
ST Bartholomew's Hospital, earmarked for closure by the Tomlinson report, appears to have won a reprieve, after a high- profile campaign by patients and supporters .

Yesterday, newspaper reports suggested the Government was rethinking plans to close or merge up to 10 London hospitals, as recommended by Sir Bernard Tomlinson in his inquiry into health service provision in the capital.

Professor Michael Besser, chief executive of Bart's, said last night that he could not confirm or deny the reports, but added that 'there has certainly been a leak from someone very high up in the Department (of Health). It is either true that Bart's is to be saved, or they are playing some sort of game.'

Dr Brian Mawhinney, Minister for Health, is to visit the east London hospital this week. The Department of Health refused to comment on yesterday's reports, claiming they were 'speculative'. 'Ministers have yet to make any final decision on the future of London's hospitals,' it said.

However, it seems unlikely that Bart's, founded in 1123, will fall victim to Tomlinson. In April the hospital becomes a self-governing trust, making closure even more complicated. More than 600,000 people have now signed a petition to save the hospital. Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, met John Major last week and he is reported to have urged caution over hospital closures.

Mrs Bottomley will give the Government's response to Tomlinson early next month. She is expected to focus on mergers rather than closures - including the long-awaited merger of St Thomas's and Guy's.

A reprieve for Bart's will disappoint staff at the Royal London Hospital NHS Trust. They saw a merger with Bart's as a much- needed boost to improve health care in the East End of London.

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