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Doris Lessing To launch project where over 90 writers give their work to support NHS staff

Originally Published 25 March 2002

Over 90 writers have come together to mark 50 years of the NHS and declare their support for what they see as some of our most beleaguered and hard working public servants. The 90+ writers have come freely donated some of their work for a special anthology of new writing entitled "The Gift" which has been commissioned specially to support National Health Service workers.

The 90+ writers include Peter Blegvad, John Burnside, Jonathan Coe, David Dabydeen, Carol Ann Duffy, Douglas Dunn, U.A. Fanthorpe, Maureen Freely, John Hegley, Jackie Kay, A.L. Kennedy, Hanif Kureishi, Doris Lessing, Blake Morrison, Andrew Motion, Paul Muldoon, Les Murray, Maggie O'Farrell, Tom Paulin, W.G. Sebald and Fay Weldon.

The contributions by the professional writers are blended together in the book with specially commissioned pieces of creative writing by NHS staff. The book will be given free to every NHS worker in Birmingham (31,000 copies) - with the intention of widening that circulation to every NHS worker in the UK should private benefactors come forward.

This project was initiated by Birmingham Health Authority and brought together and edited by the University of Warwick with support from the Nuffield Trust. All the publishers and writers involved waived permission fees. The Birmingham NHS staff asked to write for the book worked with the editor, David Morley (Director of the University of Warwick Writing Programme) at workshops at the University of Warwick earlier this year.

"The Gift" editor David Morley from the University of Warwick said:

"The first purpose was to produce a book of literary merit that stands on its own. The second is celebratory. The National Health Service is fifty years old and we can and should celebrate that half-a-century of dedication and hard work, and look forward to the next fifty years. The Gift is for our National Health Service. This book is for the workforce of the service: it is writing as an act of community, even solidarity. This book wants to give the NHS workforce something which is serious, entertaining, permanent, meaningful, and articulate. The writers hope that their work might inspire medical workers to reflect on how people who use their service feel and think about their experiences."

Alan Wenban-Smith, Chairman: Birmingham Health Authority said:

"We wanted to celebrate the NHS workforce in Birmingham to acknowledge the role they all play in this endeavour that is so much part of all our lives. Secondly, we wanted to recognise that much of the quality of people's experience of the NHS is about the human dimensions of giving and receiving care. We believe that the arts, in this case writing, can find ways to encapsulate that reality that can be more meaningful than managerial exhortations."

Contributor A.L. Kennedy said: "Thank you for my birth and for not letting me die after my fractured skull when I was 10 and for the two tetanus shots. Thank you for the A&E doctor who talked me through a slipped disk and an X-Ray and an MRI and pain relief on the day of my 34th birthday. (And for all the technicians who wished me many happy returns.) Thank you for the physio who remembered to say that long-term pain can be depressing. Thank you for giving dignity and hope to generations."

Contributor John Hegley said: "I believe care should be taken of those working in the NHS healthcare. They have seen me alright over the years, but if they aren't looked after they will be less able to look after me and others older and iller than I."

Notes for editors: A public launch of "The Gift" University of Warwick Arts Centre at 7.15 p.m. on 15th May with Doris Lessing and other major authors. For details see under "Literature" at
Warwick Arts Centre Web Link or contact Warwick Arts Centre Marketing Director Rob McPherson on 024 7652 4452. The Gift is published in April 2002 Paperback: £7.95 ISBN 1 900152 85 1 261pp by Stride Publications 11 Sylvan Road Exeter EX4 6EW

For further details please contact:

David Morley, University of Warwick, 024 7652 3346 (work) 07901 618 0234 (mobile) 024 7669 0797 (home)

Peter Spilsbury, Director of Performance and Strategy, Birmingham Health Authority: 0121 695 2256

Peter Dunn, University of Warwick Press Office: 024 7652 3708

Christine Ransome-Wallis, Press Office, Birmingham Health Authority: 0121 247 3247

Two contributors to The Gift are happy to talk about their views on the project: Maureen Freely on 01225 859 860 or 07768 893 567, and Michelene Wandor on 0207 435 8152.