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A chariuty has hit back at the Queen’s former doctor in a row over a £5 million cancer centre at St Bartholomew’s hospital.

Sir Marcus Setchell, who helped deliver Prince George, fears the modernist design of the Maggie’s care centre will threaten the future of the Great Hall, part of Bart’s Grade 1-listed North Wing, and its Hogarth canvasses.

But Maggie’s boss Laura Lee said Sir Marcus and celebrity supporters including actors Edward Fox, Greg Wise and Dame Eileen Atkins, were making a “vacuous argument” as the hall would be retained under its plans.

She said the Maggie’s, which would be only the second in London, was backed by cancer doctors and patients. She said of Sir Marcus: “This is an obstetrician talking.

“Marcus Setchell is not speaking from a position of authority within the hospital… He has not looked after someone with cancer in his entire career.”

 

The Duchess of Cornwall, Maggie’s president, is aware of the plans but has not been asked to make a public declaration of support. “She knows about it and wants to see a Maggie’s centre serving the whole of the needs of London,” Ms Lee said.

The Friends of the Great Hall, of which Sir Marcus is chairman, wants it to be restored and used for private functions. But Barts Health NHS trust, which owns the site, backs the Maggie’s plan. It is expected to go before the City of London Corporation’s planning committee in July.

Ms Lee said: “I’m surprised that the [Friends] campaign think that the Maggie’s centre will in some way jeopardise the future of the Great Hall. We have worked very closely with the planning department and Barts [Health] board to ensure our proposals in no way jeopardise it. Our building is hermetically sealed from the Great Hall.

“I think it’s a win for the hospital. It’s a win for heritage. It’s a win for people with cancer. It’s a win for east London. We will tell folks to go next door and have a look at the Hogarth.”

She added: “I think there is a high risk if we don’t get planning permission and Maggie’s doesn’t go ahead, the Great Hall will just continue falling down and people with cancer will not get the support the need.”

During an interview at the Maggie’s centre at Charing Cross hospital, she added: “Why would anyone want to fight against a much-needed facility coming to a hospital that has got a critical job to do in terms of helping people with cancer? Any doctor from Bart’s would want Bart’s to thrive. I think Maggie’s is vital to it thriving in the future.

“The clinicians who are wanting a Maggie’s are cancer doctors. I think the voices of the doctors who are providing the care in the hospital – who are responsible for the lives of the people going there today – surely must be the most important voices to listen to in terms of what is in the best interests of St Bartholomew’s hospital. I think we have a duty to move forward.

“Why would Maggie’s want to put a bad building into Bart’s? We want it to be better than any other centre we’ve built so far. There is no alternative site.

“I don’t know if the Friends have got the funding to go ahead with what they are proposing. But they can’t go ahead with what they’re proposing because the landlord [Barts Health] doesn’t want what they are proposing. It’s a vacuous argument they put forward.

“I think there is a high risk if we don’t get planning permission and Maggie’s doesn’t go ahead, the Great Hall will just continue falling down and people with cancer will not get the support the need.”

Sir Marcus wrote a letter to The Times at the weekend. It said:

Sir, Barts Hospital, founded nearly 900 years ago on the Smithfield site it still occupies, has survived the slings and arrows of history, but now the shadow of the dreaded bureaucrat has fallen across the Great Hall, a grade I listed Georgian masterpiece by the brilliant James Gibbs (architect of the Radcliffe Camera among other gifts to posterity).

The Hall, down the centuries a venue for hospital administration, philanthropy and functions, has irreplaceable Hogarth murals and wonderful art and archive collections. It is open to the public on Friday afternoons by appointment.

However, the NHS Trust wants to build a garish modernist counselling centre for cancer patients alongside the Hall, which would effectively sound its death knell. Improvements to the Hall’s facilities — disabled access, toilets, fire escapes and catering — would not be possible if the proposed Maggie’s Centre goes ahead.

There is a simple solution. The new centre can be built elsewhere on the Barts site, so allowing the Hall to stand tall in all its glory. Meanwhile, the Friends of the Great Hall have begun to campaign to save this Georgian masterpiece from the Philistines of the NHS Trust.

 

Ms Lee hit back at the “Philistines” jibe, saying: “These people have got serious jobs to do in terms of looking after people’s health. These ‘Philistines’ should be backed and supported, not ridiculed. I would put my trust and confidence in the hospital management board in having the best interests of its heritage past and future.”

Speaking to me at the launch of the Friends campaign last Thursday, Sir Marcus said: “There are other places within the hospital site that Maggie’s could be housed. I hope if their planning application is not approved, they will then reconsider and discuss with us and the NHS how everybody could walk away from this with [two] very valuable assets.”

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