Sickness in the Workhouse

Sickness in the Workhouse

Poor Law Medical Care in Provincial England, 1834-1914

Alistair Ritch


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England's New Poor Law (1834) transformed medical care in ways that have long been overlooked, or denigrated, by historians. Sickness in the Workhouse challenges these assumptions through a close examination of two urban workhouses in the west midlands from the passage of the New Poor Law until the outbreak of World War I. By observing day-to-day practice of the doctors and nurses, author Alistair Ritch challenges the idea that medical care was invariably of poor quality and brought little benefit to patients. Medical staff in the workhouses laboured under severe restraints and grappled with the immense health issues facing their patients. Sickness in the Workhouse brings to life this hidden group of workhouse staff and highlights their significance within the local health economy. Among other things, as the author notes, workhouses needed to provide medical care for non-paupers such as institutional isolation facilities for for those with infectious diseases. This important work foregrounds these doctors and nurses in order to illuminate our understanding of this significant yet little understood area of poor law history. ALISTAIR RITCH was consultant physician in geriatric medicine, City Hospital, Birmingham, and senior clinical lecturer, University of Birmingham, UK, and is currently honorary research fellow, History of Medicine Unit, University of Birmingham, UK.