Shropshire Star

Ludlow Bed Push drag nurses row: Anger over £2,500 funding refusal

Supporters of a charity fundraiser have reacted with outrage after a health trust turned down a £2,500 donation because it was raised by men dressed as female nurses.

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Bed push 'nurses' Simon Morgan and Mark Hiles

Shropshire Community Heath NHS Trust – which runs Ludlow Hospital among others – refused to accept the money raised by the Ludlow Bed Push this July, it was revealed yesterday, as chiefs objected to the event’s portrayal of medical professionals as men in comedy female nurse outfits.

Jan Ditheridge, chief executive of the trust, said the fundraisers had been warned in 2016 that the organisation did not support the image of medical staff being put forward during the bed push event, but they still went ahead this year.

The event, organised by Gary Walters of Ludlow Brewery and friends, sees en in drag running around the centre of Ludlow rattling buckets for the League of Friends of Ludlow Hospital.

Some of the Ludlow bed push 'nurses', with Mark Hiles front centre and organiser Gary Walters on the right

One of the “nurses” for the past few years has been telecommunications engineer Mark Hiles, 45, the husband of Alison Hiles, 37, who has campaigned for maternity services in Ludlow.

Alison said: “He’s obviously quite upset. They do it all in good faith, everyone has a good time and they’ve been doing it for years.

“It seems like this whole PC thing has gone mad. It really is ridiculous. As far as we’re aware nobody has ever complained.”

She pointed out that the likes of David Walliams had made a career – and lots of money for charity – partly out of comedy cross-dressing.

“It may be a bit old fashioned, like Dick Emery or Carry On and so on, but I know the nurses who work at Ludlow think it’s great and it’s meant to be a bit of harmless fun,” she said.

“If they stood there in jeans and T-shirt they wouldn’t get half the money they get,” she said.

Ms Ditheridge had said that it was “not ok” to portray healthcare professionals in the way the bed push did and had asked them not to do it before this year’s event, which is why the money had been refused.

“I’m sure the event was organised with the best intentions and we are sorry if it’s made people feel uncomfortable or embarrassed,” she said.

The Ludlow bed push fundraisers in 2016

But Peter Corfield, chairman of the League of Friends of Ludlow Hospital, said that was an “over-reaction” and cast aspersions on the character of stalwart supporters of the hospital, suggesting they were doing something bad.

He said: “What Ms Ditheridge doesn’t seem to be aware of is that the bed push was originally set up with the full co-operation of the hospital staff and has been happening in the town for about 18 to 20 years.

“Hospital staff have been involved with doing their make-up and, in the days when we actually pushed a bed around town, a member of staff was sometimes the person in the bed,” he said.

Dozens of readers took to the Shropshire Star website and facebook page over the issue, with the vast majority expressing disbelief and outrage over the refusal of the money. A commenter called Abilohman said: “I am transgendered, a Ludlow resident, the child of a medical practitioner and someone who supports gender equality.

“In short, I’m in a position to have a claim to be offended by this method of fundraising – and the decision by the Shropshire Community Health NHS Trust has disgusted me.

“This money was raised in all good faith by people who gave up their time to follow a tradition that has been going for 20 years. With the country and the NHS in the state its in, it is ludicrous to turn this down.”

A poster called epbowen added: “I am totally gobsmacked to be reading this. As a resident of Ludlow, I contributed to that fundraising that day knowing that my money was going towards our hospital.

“I take a trip into town most Saturdays with my children and that particular day my son was so excited to see the chaps dotted about town.

“It’s become a regular thing to see if we can work out who’s who as we know a lot of the guys who give up their time to do this.

“I hope this isn’t the end of the bed push. You all do a fantastic job giving up your time and you deserve to be positively recognised for it.”

Emma Richardson said: “Oh my gosh! The world’s gone crazy! This political corrective rubbish has stopped a worthy charitable donation.”

Marie Owen agreed, saying: “Well perhaps she should write to the BBC and demand that Carry On Doctor be banned too.

“I don’t like the perpetuation of sexual stereotyping but I do think that the Carry On type theme was completely tongue in cheek.”

Others suggested the money should go to another good cause as there were plenty of health service charities crying out for funding.

Bernie Rogers said: “These fundraisers have given their time and energy generously for this cause. With the health authorities in the shape they’re in, the money should be accepted and perhaps come to an agreement about next year’s event. Well done to the fundraisers, it’s a real shame. I hope this money eventually finds a good cause.”