London hospital fights for its 870-year life

February 03, 1993|By Michele Nevard | Michele Nevard,London Bureau

LONDON -- In 1123, Rahere, court jester to Henry I, suffered an attack of malaria on a pilgrimage to Rome. He vowed to set up a hospital on his return to London.

Henry I granted him some land in Smithfield in the City of London and he founded St. Bartholomew's Hospital and a priory.

St. Bartholomew's Hospital is still going, the oldest hospital in London. But it is in grave danger of being closed down. The final decision will be made tomorrow.

London is served by 12 major undergraduate teaching hospitals and eight postgraduate special health authority hospitals. This, a report says, is too many for central London.

The report by Sir Bernard Tomlinson recommended to the health minister that Bart's and the Royal London Hospital should merge, with the Bart's site being closed.

Other hospitals face the ax, too, but it is Bart's that has stirred Londoners' emotions.

The report's conclusion is determined by geographic areas of responsibility. One hospital should be able to service the population within a 10-minute drive from its doors without overlapping with another.

The London Evening Standard, which has been running a Save Bart's Campaign, carried out a survey of its own, applying the same criteria used by Mr. Tomlinson. It uncovered discrepancies.

Mr. Tomlinson says the 10-minute drive area from Bart's covers more than 40 square kilometers. The Standard survey showed it was barely 10 kilometers.

Don Magnus, an ex-patient, has chaired the Save Bart's Patients Co-ordinating Committee, which has captured the imagination and signatures of over 750,000 people.

In London, the cast of the "Phantom of the Opera" have signed the petition and the staff of the Royal Opera House. All from Holborn Police Station have joined the ranks.

In 1381, a mere 260 years after Bart's was founded, Wat Tyler led the Peasants Revolt into London.

At Smithfield, while negotiating with King Richard II, he was pulled from his horse and stabbed by the lord mayor of London. Tyler was rushed to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, but he was followed by the king's men, who beheaded him on the spot.

Today the question is whether St. Bartholomew's itself will get the ax.

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