Former surgeon’s gift helps St Bartholomew’s Hospital mark 900 years of innovation


Professor Charles Knight OBE, Chief Executive of St Bartholomew’s Hospital, pens a column on the milestone anniversary of St Barts.

St Bartholomew’s, Britain’s oldest working hospital, is preparing to celebrate its 900th anniversary in 2023 – a hugely exciting milestone for our staff and the community we are proud to serve.

Founded in the heart of the City by jester Rahere and re-founded by Henry VIII after the dissolution of the monasteries, ‘Barts’ has survived plagues, world wars and every kind of economic and social upheaval, steadfastly caring for the 2.5m people who make up diverse and vibrant East London.

At all times, I am pleased to say, we have remained at the vanguard of world-leading medical research and advanced treatments, in particular for cancer and cardiac conditions, thanks to our talented clinicians.

The hospital, now part of the Barts Health NHS Trust, has always survived and thrived through the generosity of donors.

Last month, we were honoured to announce that retired orthopaedic surgeon Alan Lettin, 91, had become the first donor to receive a plaque on the walls of the hospital’s magnificent Great Hall for over 100 years. His plaque joins over 3,000 other inscriptions, recognising donations made from 1546 to 1905.

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Alan, who grew up in East London where his parents owned a corner shop, was a consultant at Barts for 18 of the 50 years he spent in the NHS. He was on hand to help victims during the Moorgate Train Disaster of 1973 and at the bombing of the Old Bailey by the IRA two years later.

His gift will contribute towards the £9.1m required to restore the older North Wing of the hospital and bring it back to life as a visitor attraction and cultural venue, but also as a heritage and health hub, providing a place of quiet reflection and recuperation for patients and staff. The project is being led by Barts Heritage with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

During his visit to the Great Hall, Alan revealed that he started working at the hospital during our 850th anniversary. He recalled attending a grand ball with his wife and even making a short film of the occasion.

It’s testament to the special place that the hospital holds in the hearts of former staff that Alan made his generous donation. He also expressed his surprise at receiving a plaque marking it – a much-loved Barts tradition that has been revived as we embark on an ambitious fundraising campaign.

Barts Charity is leading the campaign to help us build a new state-of-the art breast cancer centre and a world class clinical research facility so we can deliver unprecedented levels of care to the people of East London and beyond.

As we approach our 900th year of service, we look forward to sharing, in this new monthly column, colourful stories from our history, unique insights into the work we do, and details of some of the innovation in research, care and treatment we will be developing in the future.

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