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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 June, 2005, 11:47 GMT 12:47 UK
TV resuscitation 'is unrealistic'
By Nick Triggle
BBC News health reporter in Manchester

It often works on television
TV is distorting the reality of heart resuscitation by raising the public's expectations of survival, doctors say.

GP Dr Andrew Thomson said shows such as Casualty, ER and Holby City exaggerated the success of emergency CPR.

But he said in reality many did not survive and those that did would often have debilitating conditions.

The British Medical Association conference backed a motion calling on the government to combat the inaccurate portrayal.

This inaccurate portrayal is very traumatic for families because it raises expectation
Dr Andrew Thomson

CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) most commonly seen on TV includes mouth-to-mouth and chest compression to keep the respiratory and circulatory functions going when the heart stops.

Dr Thomson, from Angus in Scotland, said from TV you would think that three-quarters of people lived, while the rest died.

"But it is not just life and death. The truth is that many of the people who do survive have debilitating [conditions].

"This inaccurate portrayal is very traumatic for families because it raises expectation.

Not magic

"CPR can and does work but it does not have the magical quality that is always shown."

He said half of people whose heart stops in hospitals survive the initial event - but only a third then lived to be discharged.

He said it was probably less than 2% for those who are out of a medical environment.

"This is making our job harder."

Katie MacLaren, of the BMA's junior doctors committee, said she had had personal experience of people expecting too much when the daughter of one of her patients referred to how people are "brought back to life".

"I not only had to address the illness, I had to explain that quite often the media was unrepresentative.

"The high expectations of the public make it worse."

Dr Michael Wilks, chairman of the BMA's ethic committee, agreed. "It is totally unrealistic the portrayal in the media."

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