FOR thirteen years planning has been underway for two new hospitals to replace the old Royal London and St Bartholomew's hospitals and medical schools in London's East End which jointly serve a population the size of Wales. However, a letter to The Times this week from senior medical practioners at these hospitals, on behalf of 1'000 doctors, including consultants and professors, said that just as the contracts for redevelopment were ready to signed the Department of Health decided to commission a last-minute review of the viability of the scheme. The grounds for this review are thought to include the numbers of people likely to be served by the new hospitals; the professionals point that the existing large cachment area will be substantially increased by the new Thames Gateway area. The project is expected to cost 1.3 billion pounds and the review will also look at whether the hospital trust will be able to bear the high levels of repayment over a period of more than forty years. These may very well be valid matters of concern for the government but it seems strange that satisfactory answers to them have not been sought and provided during the extended development period which began during the last Conservative government. As Mr Blair surveys the tasks facing him in the few years he has left to complete his reform agenda he must sometimes despair. Despite the billions poured into the National Health Service productivity has fallen. Despite generous investment and countless adjustments to teaching and examinations, Britain's schools still apparently require further major reforms due to be outlined in the coming White Paper. When will it end? Almost certainly not before Mr Brown or Mr Cameron has to take on the unenviable task.
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