Views & Reviews Medical Classics

How the Poor Die

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 04 October 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e6699
  1. Peter Davies, freelance journalist, London
  1. petergdavies{at}

In the year the NHS Act became law, George Orwell recalls in his essay “How the Poor Die” the squalor and primitive treatments he encountered during his first stay in the public ward of a hospital, in Paris in 1929. Described as “Hôpital X,” it was the Hôpital Cochin, which still exists, though with a much improved reputation.

Orwell is admitted with pneumonia, and undergoes cupping and is given a mustard poultice—like every patient regardless of their condition: “You got very little treatment at all, either good or bad, unless you were ill in some interesting and instructive …

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