How Bart's was unsaved: Judy Jones reports on the false hopes leading to its loss of independence

THE 'REPRIEVE' granted to St Bartholomew's Hospital, in the City of London, last Tuesday was not what its staff and supporters had in mind. What emerged was not so much an official pardon, nor even parole; it looked much more like the promise of only a few extra months for the prisoner to put his affairs in order before something painful happened.

Closure of the hospital, founded in 1123, was urged in the report of Sir Bernard Tomlinson last October, as part of a programme to concentrate the capital's acute hospital services on fewer sites.

Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, had made little secret, among colleagues, of her desire to implement it.

So the hospital was to be closed, then it was to be saved and finally came the 'reprieve'.

The seeds of the confusion were sown last month after a senior official at the Corporation of London, the authority that represents City interests, phoned John Major's office.

The Corporation had earlier written to Mrs Bottomley, asking her to receive a deputation headed by the Lord Mayor. It wanted to impress upon her its view that Bart's should be retained for the good of residents and commuters and to maintain the City's attractiveness to overseas investors.

The Corporation had become anxious at the absence of a swift or positive response. One source said: 'Basically we asked Downing Street for assistance'.

A few days later, Mrs Bottomley was summoned to Downing Street. Mr Major pressed her to proceed cautiously with the closure programe.

The first sprinkling of newspaper reports suggesting that she was preparing to compromise over planned closures of London hospitals came on 17 January.

'Bottomley backs off from axing Bart's' (Sunday Telegraph) was the most bullish of the crop, saying that Bart's 'is to be saved' after a 'last-minute retreat'.

The Government's response to the Tomlinson blueprint for London was pencilled in for discussion at the Cabinet meeting of

4 February, but it was put off for a week. It went for approval to the full Cabinet on 11 February. That day, the London Evening Standard, which had campaigned to save Bart's, led its front page with 'Bart's set to be saved today'.

Hours after the Cabinet meeting, ITN was leading its early evening news bulletin with a 'Bart's reprieved' story.

The Department of Health was deluged with telephone calls from journalists all afternoon trying to find out the what exactly had been agreed.

One source said: 'What we were trying to get over was that something or other of Bart's would probably survive on the site. I told people 'Yes, it is likely there will continue to be something there, a much-truncated hospital would survive'.'

Friday's newspapers carried broadly similar stories of a reprieve. Professor Michael Besser, Bart's chief executive, was himself convinced that the Government had finally stepped back from the brink of closure, and that a smaller, specialist hospital would survive.

To him, the only substantial remaining area of doubt appeared to concern the future of the accident and emergency department - as was reported two days later in the Independent on Sunday.

In the event, the Government decided that two other options for Bart's - in addition to the closure proposal - should be included in its formal response. These were merger with the Royal London, or continuing independence as a much smaller, specialist hospital.

The day after the Government announcement, Bart's acknowledged that the third option was hopelessly unrealistic, and decided its only chance was to merge with the Royal London. Negotiations begin on Tuesday.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album