Tuesday, July 7, 1998 Published at 17:20 GMT 18:20 UK
Soap docs in the dock
Eastenders and other soaps accused of misrepresenting doctors
Doctors have hit out at television dramas for portraying an unrealistic picture of the NHS which raises patient expectations and may even threaten lives.
Middlesex GP Dr Chaand Nagpaul said programmes like the primary care drama Peak Practice and Eastenders were undermining attempts to educate patients about how they should use hard-pushed NHS services.
By giving the impression that patients could rely on their GP in all circumstances, Peak Practice was unwittingly putting lives at risk, he said.
The British Medical Association joined forces with the Department of Health last year to set up the Doctor Patient Partnership, a campaign designed to dissuade patients from making unnecessary demands on the NHS.
Undermined at a stroke
But Dr Nagpaul said the DPP work was undermined "at a stroke" by irresponsible portrayal of the NHS on peak time television.
He called on the government to regulate fictional drama to ensure it accurately reflected the reality of the NHS.
"Soap operas, especially Peak Practice, give the impression that patients are best advised to seek a GP at all times, even when they collapse in the road.
"In the real world, such a delay in calling an ambulance may well be life-threatening."
On hand at all times
Dr Nagpaul said Peak Practice also gave the impression that GPs were on hand 24 hours a day, even "wiping their brow" when they came round from surgery in hospital.
"We spend so much time and energy teaching the public to use the NHS appropriately, but then one minute of Peak Practice undoes a whole year's work," he said.
"Equally, in EastEnders Dr Legge is called out to visit patients at home for medical conditions when we would ordinarily ask a patient to attend the surgery. When patients have seen that it makes it very difficult to tell them that they are expected to come to us, not the other way round."
Representatives at the British Medical Association's annual meeting in Cardiff will also hear condemnation of the media for portraying life styles involving excessive drink and drug usage as a role model for the young.