The great Northampton General Hospital ‘lie in’

May 31, 2007 at 6:58 am 3 comments

Historical article adapted from the ‘Northampton Healthworker’ newsletter. I think it highlights well how the introduction of market forces into the NHS is in reality a disguised form of rationing, which can and does have devastating consequences for those who can’t afford to go private. It also shows, however, that it is nothing new, and can be resisted very effectively if healthcare workers and users get together and stick up for ourselves.

29 years ago: Rita Ward and the Great Northampton Hospital ‘lie-in”

We hear a lot these days about the ‘creeping privatisation’ of the NHS. We have a Labour government committed to turning our free National Health Service into just another business along the lines of the American model, which sees poor people refused medical treatment because they can’t afford it. Although the current Thatcherite leadership of the Labour party is more vicious than most in it’s attacks on the NHS (foundation trusts and PFI schemes being their current weapons of choice) such thinking is, unfortunately, far from new. As far back as 1977 Northampton General Hospital was the scene of a battle against a Labour government’s attempts to marketise the NHS which saw a brave housewife and rank and file trade unionists take on the government and NGH management.

Rita Ward, of St. James’ Park road, Northampton had been in severe pain for 18 months and was waiting for a desperately needed gallstones operation. She was told she would have to wait another year – unless she coughed up £400 (a lot more money in those days) in which case she could have it that weekend! Rightly outraged at this economic apartheid Rita determined that she would get the operation at the same time as she would have done if she was rich. Flanked by her family and local trade unionists Rita walked into the hospital, removed the coat which was covering her nightdress and lay down in an empty bed. The hospital workers were informed of the situation and showed true working-class solidarity, proceeding to treat Rita as they would any other patient, and refusing orders to move her.

The next day it was national news, with journalists descending on NGH to cover the story. The right wing press screamed about ‘queue-jumping’ but others, notably Paul Foot, pointed out that there shouldn’t be a queue in the first place and if there is one you certainly shouldn’t be able to get to the top of it by being rich.

The outcome was that Rita got her operation in the next few days, and no other patients had operations cancelled or deferred. As the Daily Mail and the Labour government tore their hair out Rita Ward, Northampton housewife, and health workers at Northampton General gave the country a lesson in how direct action and working-class solidarity can defeat the attempts of the moneymen to deny us our basic rights. The small victory we won in Northampton 29 years ago has, however, been followed by many defeats. With the NHS being slowly run down and sold off, PFI schemes and ‘foundation hospitals’ introducing market principles into our health service and more and more NHS services being ‘contracted out’ to private profiteers how many more are being told, like Rita, that they have to pay for health care, but are unable to take the action she so bravely took?


Entry filed under: healthcare workers, solidarity.

website colour scheme National Blood Service centralisation dispute

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Giovanna Lepore  |  May 31, 2007 at 11:41 pm

    The American Model of health care is neither about health nor care-resist it! It not only see poor people denied health care but watches them die-checkout what is happening in Tenesee and elsewhere in the USA and see Moore’s new film SICKO. Rita Ward is a true heroine and rebel girl and I am going to forward your articles to the following places in the US that are fighting for what the rightwing in you country is trying to destroy: in NYC and in California. Workers of the world must stay united!

  • 2. poliakova  |  June 2, 2007 at 12:02 pm

    Thanks Giovanna, those sites look really interesting. And I hadn’t heard about the new Moore film, is it specifically about healthcare? Sounds like it will be an excellent resource for campaigners in the US and UK. Cheers for all the information!

  • 3. Giovanna Lepore  |  June 24, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    Greetngs Raical Healthcare workers! To answer Poliakova’s question regarding Michael Moore’s film: yes, it is about health care but, naturally, it is also a little more -I recommend it-you are sure to enjoy the part about health care in England and yes, it is being used as an organizing tool-don’t let the right wing in your country destroy what you have and show this film to your people.


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