Bart's to negotiate hospitals merger

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SENIOR managers and doctors at Bart's will open merger negotiations with the Royal London hospital next week after abandoning their battle to secure a future for the institution as a smaller, specialist hospital.

The talks were fixed yesterday as City industrialists and business leaders condemned the Government's refusal to lift the threat of closure hanging over Bart's in its plans to rationalise the capital's hospital services.

The ruling body of the Corporation of London, the authority that runs the City, warned yesterday that irreparable damage could be inflicted on its business and financial institutions if its hospital was closed. A motion passed unanimously by the corporation's 100-strong Court of Common Council accused the Government of undermining the City's attempts to attract overseas investors.

Sir Francis McWilliams, the Lord Mayor of London, said he was concerned the hospital was still 'under grave threat, at a time when we are energetically promoting London as a world leader for business and finance'.

Meanwhile, Michael Fairey, chief executive of the Royal London Trust, welcomed the initiative from Michael Besser, his counterpart at Bart's, aimed at producing a merger between the two hospitals. 'We strongly believe that a merged hospital, combining the best features of both the Royal London and St Bartholomew's would be a tremendous asset for the people of London, and a formidable force in the national and international health arena.'

Although Professor Besser has said the talks would take place between equal partners, there remains considerable doubt over what services - if any - would be left on Bart's Smithfield site in five to six years.

Dr Michael Swash, medical director of the Royal London, which is a mile away from Bart's in Whitechapel, said last night: 'Mergers are always difficult. There will be some pain. But the outcome will be an excellent one.'

The Government yesterday named the clinicians who will lead the six medical specialty reviews of London and report to ministers by the end of May. Final decisions over closures or mergers will hinge to a large extent on the conclusions of the review teams studying the distribution, and present duplication of specialties in the capital.

Brian Mawhinney, Minister of State for Health, said the reviews would seek to 'provide a stronger service to patients and an improved academic base'.

Appointments announced by the Department of Health were: Cancer services review chaired by Dr Christopher Paine, president of the Royal College of Radiologists and a former student of Bart's; renal services, Professor Netar Mallick, of the department of renal medicine at Manchester Royal Infirmary; neurosciences, Thomas Hide, consultant neurosurgeon at South General Hospital, Glasgow; plastic surgery and burns, Mr Philip Sykes, St Lawrence Hospital, Chepstow; cardiac services, Professor Geoffrey Smith, department of cardio-thoracic surgery, University of Sheffield; Specialist children's services, Professor David Hull, department of child health, University of Nottingham, president of the British Paediatric Association.