In the debates over the politics of National Health Service foundation, there has been little investigation of the attitudes of the inter-war labour movement to a state-run hospital system. In particular, there has been limited assessment of views outside parliament in provincial Labour parties and trade unions. Drawing on a case study of Middlesbrough, Leeds and Sheffield, this article examines the politics of hospital provision prior to the National Health Service (NHS). It focuses on the involvement of the labour movement in hospital provision within localities and on the extent to which the dominant form of labour politics - labourist or socialist - shaped hospital policy. It suggests that, in the heavy industrial towns of Middlesbrough and Sheffield, close involvement with voluntary hospitals through workers contributory schemes dampened the enthusiasm for a state system. However, such a policy was heavily promoted by socialists in more economically diverse Leeds.