Elizabeth Ward

Elizabeth Ward


Elizabeth Ward (1926-2020)

Elizabeth Ward OBE founded the British Kidney Patients Association (BKPA)  (later Kidney Care UK) in 1975.

Her motivation to support the cause of kidney patients came from her personal experience. Her son ‘Timbo’ developed renal failure in 1970 as a teenager and was treated by both  dialysis and  transplant before dying in his thirties. Her book ‘Timbo’ is her personal account of his life and explains well the background and motivation for her work.

She was a powerful and articulate advocate for people with kidney failure, regularly jousting with government and other influencers to promote the insufficient availability of renal care. She was unafraid to criticise and challenge health professionals providing renal care if in her view they were doing less than was possible. She gave her powerful voice to  promote the introduction of the organ donor card scheme in the 1970s. She was socially very well connected – the Duke of Edinburgh and Diana,  Princess of Wales were among those who in the 1980s opened facilities funded by BKPA. The Duke of Westminster was the first patron of BKPA.  These connections together with her immense personal  drive  made her a formidable fundraiser.

BKPA used the funds she raised to support patients directly through personal grants, by providing holiday facilities for haemodialysis, and also by funding facilities and staff in hard-pressed renal units. Units welcomed her investment not only to accelerate progress in care provision, but also to provide leverage to encourage NHS funding to continue what had been started by BKPA funding.

Here is a  personal  appreciation of  her from a long standing transplant patient, who interviewed her late in her life.

There were however aspects of her approach   which made some of the kidney community less than comfortable  to work with her. The very substantial funds raised by BKPA were dispensed to renal units by her personal decision rather than through any more objective assessment of priority. Even when the funds became very substantial she regarded them as her personal fiefdom and did not see the necessity for more broad-based and objective decision making.  She was known sometimes to attach restrictions to her financial dispositions which did not always seem appropriate, and there was little  doubt that some units were favoured over others in those dispositions. In one cause celebre, the case of a kidney patient in Oxford  whose dialysis was discontinued in a  complex set of circumstances, she used the case in the national press as an example of rationing of kidney services, impugning those responsible for his care without full awareness of the case; with traumatic emotional effect on the senior clinical staff involved.

Late in her life she stepped back from leadership in BKPA in response to a move towards more rigorous governance, but she continued to the end of her life to speak passionately about the unmet needs of kidney patients.


Last Updated on July 10, 2023 by John Feehally