Barts fears for research future if services move

January 20, 2006

One of London's leading medical schools has warned that it faces potential ruin if the Government reneges on major hospital redevelopment plans.

The Government has confirmed that it is reconsidering extensive investment plans at St Bartholomew's (Barts) and the Royal London hospitals - part of the Department of Health's controversial £1.2 billion private finance initiative - because of fears that the institutions will be unable to cope with their debts.

One option being considered is moving heart and cancer services from Barts.

Academics warned this week that such a decision would deal a body blow to research and seriously jeopardise Barts and The London, Queen Mary's School of Medicine.

Nicholas Wright, the warden of the medical school, who received a knighthood for his services to medicine in the New Year Honours list, said:

"If we lose cardiac and cancer services from Barts, we will be totally destabilised and our viability as a centre of research excellence will disappear."

He added: "We have recruited professors in the past four years. But if this happens all our best people will leave before the next research assessment exercise and the medical school will be under threat."

Medical academics are angry that the Department of Health announced this fundamental review at the last minute when contracts were ready to be signed.

The review is due to be completed this month and Professor Wright has urged medical academics and doctors to write to the Government.

He said: "I've written to all my staff about this. It is a time of high anxiety for us."

The Government itself decided that Barts should be included in the redevelopment scheme in 1998. Since then, the school has invested £30 million in high-tech facilities for 400 cardiovascular and cancer researchers.

Barts and the nearby Charterhouse Square research site were the first to be awarded UK clinical research centre status by Cancer Research UK in 2003.

The Council of Heads of Medical Schools criticised the review this week. A spokeswoman said: "North-East London offers unique clinical exposure with its ethnic mix and the health problems associated with people challenged by poverty. Depriving this population of high-class medical facilities and the impact the synergy between research and teaching has on the quality of care would be devastating."

Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, issued a statement saying: "Given the scale of the proposals, the large sums of taxpayers' cash involved and the significant reductions in waiting lists in recent years, it would be reckless to go ahead without proper scrutiny."

She added: "I have commissioned an urgent review to ensure that the National Health Service in East London has the right hospital capacity to meet patients' needs and get value for money."

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