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Tuesday, 25 December, 2001, 01:45 GMT
Behind the scenes at Holby
The cast of Holby City
The cast of Holby City

By BBC News Online's Caroline Ryan

When the BBC decided to develop a spin-off series from ratings-winner Casualty in 1998, it approached nurse Brian Dolan to act as an adviser.

Since then, he has given advice on everything from how nurses walk, through to an alleged rape storyline involving two nurses, along with detailed advice on medical procedures and the reality of life in the NHS.

Brian Dolan: behind the scenes advice
Brian Dolan: behind the scenes advice
And the show has grown from nine programmes in a series, to the current run of about 50 programmes.

One of his first jobs was showing stars how to give realistic injections.

"When I first started, I was training the actors how to inject by getting oranges, and getting them to draw up some water and then to inject the oranges.

"They loved that, really enjoyed it."

He also had to explain the basics like monitoring blood pressure, or checking a pulse to the Holby team "It was things that nurses naturally take for granted."

And in explaining how to best imitate a nurse's gait he says they walk "briskly" but will not run.

Some of the actors have even spent time on real hospital wards to get a true picture of life in the NHS.

Medical team

Mr Dolan was suggested for the role by the Royal College of Nursing, where he is a member of the forum which advises on emergency care.

The programme also has two nurses, who are always on set, and four doctors - a cardiothoracic surgeon, a general surgeon, a paediatrician and - with the introduction of a maternity unit - an obstetrician to advise script-writers and actors.

Mr Dolan also advises the programme on the problems such as bed and staff shortages which afflict the NHS.

"Part of the adviser's role is to reflect what goes on," he said.

One thing I like about it is you can change people's perceptions of the nursing profession

Brian Dolan
That could mean, say, a ward sister on the phone to an agency looking for freelance nurses to help staff the ward.

"One thing I like about it is you can change people's perceptions of the nursing profession.

"Holby City shows the gritty reality of life in the NHS. It does talk about staff shortages, and not having enough beds, doctors and nurses making ethical decisions all the time.

"Should they close the ward if there's an infection?

"Which patient should have the heart transplant - because the outcome means someone will die."


Mr Dolan thinks Holby, and programmes like it, can show patients and relatives what to expect from the NHS - such as the practice of allowing relatives to remain in the room when patients are being resuscitated.

"That means there's more dramatic tension, professionally it's right, and the general public who are watching see it's OK to be with their loved one at that time."

Tina Hobley plays ward sister Chrissie Williams
Tina Hobley plays ward sister Chrissie Williams
He sees rough ideas for a story-line, followed by five drafts of scripts, and can make changes at any point.

For example, he could say exactly what injuries a child would have in a road accident, or tell script-writers that if a patient had lost a great deal of blood, and they had a cardiac arrest, they could not be defibrillated.

Instead, they would have to be given more blood and then a cardiac massage.

Realism, he says, is crucial.

Breaking down stereotypes

In the new year, viewers will see more of the maternity unit at Holby, and will meet a new male midwife character played by David Paisley.

That, says Mr Dolan, will help break down the stereotype that all midwives are women.

Brian Dolan advises on what injuries patients would suffer in accidents
Brian Dolan advises on what injuries patients would suffer in accidents
Holby City, like other medical dramas, faces the problem of trying to make everything seem realistic.

In recent scenes involving tiny babies, models costing thousands of pounds were used. Real babies can be used, although they can only be on set for a couple of hours again at a time.

Prosthetic chests also play a key part of the programme. Holby has a shallow model and a deep one, which actors can get into up to their wrists, each costing 5,000 - 6,000.

Mr Dolan says the audience obviously watches Holby City for the dramatic story lines, but says "If they can learn something about healthcare, then that's good."

See also:

20 Dec 00 | Entertainment
David Soul joins Holby City
18 Dec 01 | FA Cup
Ready, Teddy, act
18 Dec 01 | Football
BBC Sport's FA Cup drama
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