When it was chosen by Sherlock Holmes for an apparent suicide leap, St Bartholomew’s hospital became an unlikely cult location for legions of fans.
Now the old pathology building, from which the great detective faked his own death, could be reborn as part of a “multi-million pound” plan to help restore the finances of Britain’s oldest hospital to good health.
Since Benedict Cumberbatch leaped from the rooftop of the five-storey building to mark the end of the second BBC series in 2012, the site has become a shrine to the legendary fictional detective.
The hospital walls have been daubed in “Sherlock lives” graffiti and the red phone box beside which Cumberbatch – and a stunt double (pictured) – fell has been decorated with “love-locks” and post-it notes bearing Sherlock quotations.
“It’s a place of pilgrimage for Sherlock fans,” said Crispin Walkling-Lea, clinical advisor at Barts Health. “It has a bit of a cult following – you see people outside taking photographs, they have drawn and written on the windows.”
Barts Health, which owns the site, is inviting bids to lease the pathology building and a neighbouring disused staff accommodation wing to a private hospital.
With a £135 million deficit predicted this financial year – the largest ever seen in the NHS – trust bosses say increasing the modest £2 million annual revenue currently earned by Barts Health from private care is “elementary” as a means to subsidise NHS patients.
Trust bosses believe the prestigious site, in Smithfield, offers a rare central London opportunity for a private healthcare firm and could enable Barts consultants to bring their NHS work and private practice closer together.
Barts Health switched its attention to the site after abandoning plans to open a private unit on one of two mothballed floors on the new Royal London hospital, in Whitechapel. It plans to lease rather than sell the buildings in the hope of securing long-term revenue.
Much of the central square within St Bartholomew’s – which was founded in 1123 – is Grade 1-listed. The pathology block and former residential staff quarters, both of which front Giltspur Street, have been empty for years, but the rest of the site has undergone a huge transformation, culminating with the opening of the Barts Heart Centre last year.
Mr Walkling-Lea said: “I think it’s great we still have some of the most historic buildings, and some of them still in use for clinical care. This is a development opportunity – it’s an empty shell.”
Barts Health said: “These buildings are no longer used for NHS services, are in a dilapidated state, and require significant investment to make them usable. Barts Health does not have the resources to develop the site for NHS use.
“Barts Health will lease the land to a private operator, who will meet the entire costs of restoring and equipping the buildings for use as a modern healthcare facility.
“The unit would be funded and staffed entirely by the private provider and a full business case will go for approval to the Barts Health board and Trust Development Authority.”