Fears grow over university plan to change branding of UK’s oldest medical school

Pic: Erin Lister

Staff and students at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry – which is associated with Britain’s oldest hospital – are set to campaign against plans which could see its historic name disappear from its branding.

Fears began after an email, sent at the close of last semester by Queen Mary University’s vice principal for health Professor Irene Leigh, highlighted recent changes to the School of Medicine and Dentistry website and signage around the Barts’ campuses and suggested that Queen Mary is looking to “evolve” Barts and The London’s branding.

Leigh said the merged colleges must become “more coherent, more collegial, and more collaborative.”

Whilst not providing any idea of what future changes students can expect, the message sparked worry among the medical school’s community.

In an official statement, the Barts and The London Students Association said: “It seems that to some, this community and our standing as the oldest medical school, oldest dental school and oldest hospital in the country mean nothing.

“The university’s continuing attempts to erase our namesake, our heritage and this community must not be taken in stride.

“We know that Barts and The London is stronger as part of Queen Mary, but we feel our history, culture and identity should be respected.”

This is not the first time such worry has been raised.

The medical school’s history dates from the founding of St Bartholomew’s Hospital, usually known as Barts, the oldest hospital in the country, in 1123. But it is now run separately from the Barts NHS health trust, which runs the main Barts Hospital in Smithfield, the Royal London Hospital and Mile End Hospital in Tower Hamlets. The medical school is based on adjacent sites to these hospitals.

Its name derives from the merger of the London Hospital Medical College and St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical College which are now under the management of Queen Mary, University of London . When it took over the colleges in 1995, Queen Mary, which is based in Mile End, chose to retain the Barts and The London name and its associated legacy.

However, turmoil began in 2019, when senior management proposed to change the Barts and The London’s logo, aligning it more closely with the Queen Mary logo and including ‘Barts and The London’ as a footnote.

In a response sent to those emailing against the proposal, Queen Mary principal Professor Colin Bailey cited a need for “more consistency” across the university due to external consultancy citing the branding as “confused, and as a result, ineffective.”

The proposal quickly sparked the Save Our BL campaign, garnering support from students, staff, and alumni alike. Despite much resistance and a petition which obtained 2,799 signatures, the logo was eventually changed.

Now, the VP health’s recent email, and the subtle changes to the brand cited within it, have many concerned that Queen Mary wishes to erase more of Barts’ history, potentially removing the Barts and The London name.

Students and alumni began sharing their views on social media soon after the email was sent, and a post from the newly formed campaign We are Barts and The London gained quick traction.

Pic: Erin Lister

Karolina Wieczorek, a current student at Barts and societies officer on the BLSA board, said: “I’m very concerned about the integrity and identity of our student groups at Barts. What we are famous for and what people came to this medical school for, was the fact that we had a separate student union.

“None of the other medical schools in London have such big student unions. People have been so involved in creating a community [here]. So, I’m personally worried that we will lose this huge, nice structure that has been built upon for so long.”

She said that the response they’ve seen on social media shows how “almost everyone is very passionate and feels very emotional about this whole thing.” She is hoping they can reach a compromise.

Eleanor Stead, a 2017 alumnus of Barts, also shared her support for the campaign, saying: “I’ve always felt very proud to be a part of Barts and The London due to the history and strong community of the school that made my university days some of the best of my life.

“The Barts and The London brand is something that I know many students and alumni feel very strongly about, and I know I won’t be alone in saying that even if the rebrand goes ahead, I will always be an alumnus from Barts and The London, not Queen Mary.”

Queen Mary has been approached for comment on this issue.

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