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St Bartholomew's Hospital


The main entrance at Barts. Note Henry VIII above the gate

St Bartholomew's Hospital, also known as Barts, is a hospital in Smithfield in the City of London. It was founded by Raherus or Rahere († 1144), a favorite courtier of King Henry I, and has an important current role as well as a long history and architecturally important buildings. The Henry VIII entrance to the hospital shown in the photograph is still the main public entrance. The statue of Henry VIII is the only public statue of him in London.

St Bartholomew's Hospital been in existence for almost 900 years. Its museum shows how medical care has developed over this time and explains the history of the hospital. Part way around the exhibition is a door which opens on to the hospital's official entrance hall. On the walls of the staircase are two stunning murals painted by William Hogarth, The Pool of Bethesda (1736) and The Good Samaritan (1737). These are worth a visit in their own right but can only be seen at close quarters on Friday afternoons. Hogarth was so outraged by the news that the hospital was commissioning art from Italian painters that he insisted on doing these murals free of charge, as a demonstration that English painting was equal to the task. The Pool of Bethesda is of particular medical interest, as it depicts a scene in which Christ cures the sick: display material on the first floor speculates in modern medical terms about the ailments from which Christ's patients in the painting are suffering.

The room to which the staircase leads is the hospital's Great Hall, a striking double-height room in Baroque style. Although there are a few paintings inside the Great Hall, nearly all are on movable stands: the walls themselves are mostly given over to the display of the very many large, painted plaques which list, in detail, the sums of money given to the hospital by its benefactors. These make diverting reading: the visitor should note that some of the amounts, which are expressed in pounds, shillings and pence, are odd because they are the remains of an estate after all other bequests have been settled; others look strange because they were given as round amounts of guineas, a guinea being twenty-one shillings. When translated into pounds and shillings these give some odd-looking results: for example fifty-five guineas would be listed as 57-15-00.

The Great Hall is part of a building which forms one side of the hospital's central square. Currently (2003) this area is the site of some building work as the hospital is redeveloped (see below) but the work is masked from the main square by large murals and the overall effect is thus not too badly diminished.

After a controversial review of London hospitals in the 1990s Barts was threatened with closure, and lost its Accident and Emergency (A&E) department (US: Emergency Room), whose absence is still hotly resented locally. The nearest A&E is now at the Royal London Hospital, a sister hospital of Barts which is a couple of miles away in Whitechapel. The Minor Injuries unit at Barts aims to replace A&E for small cases (which often represent a significant part of the workload of A&E services) but urgent and major work goes to the Royal London or other hospitals. Many campaign stickers demanding the reopening of Barts' A&E may still be seen in shops in the area, and the events of September 11th 2001 increased concern about A&E provision so close to the City, which presents a tempting terrorist target.

A common view of some medical staff is that it is difficult for hospitals without an A&E to keep at the cutting edge of skills, acquire interesting and varied cases, etc. Nevertheless, the new plan is for Barts to develop as a centre of excellence in cardiac care and cancer and to this end major investment and redevelopment is taking place at the site.

Barts, along with the Royal London and London Chest Hospitals, is part of Barts and The London NHS Trust.

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