Page last updated at 01:08 GMT, Wednesday, 18 November 2009

TV dramas 'misrepresent the NHS'

Antony Sumara
VIEWPOINT
Antony Sumara
Chief executive of Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust

Nick Jordan (Michael French) and Zoe Hanna (Sunetra Sarker)
Staff gossip, flirt and argue in TV shows

TV hospital dramas can be exciting and entertaining but they are often filled with unprofessional behaviour, says Antony Sumara who runs the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Hospital Trust.

He argues in this week's Scrubbing Up that such programmes are painting the NHS and its doctors and nurses in a poor light and not reflecting real hospital life.

If you work in the NHS you either avoid NHS-based soap operas like the plague or watch them as an unofficial sofa critic.

It can be quite therapeutic after a long day at work to wind down by watching the drama unfold on Holby City and Casualty.

However, the drama isn't limited to medical emergencies.

There is a very serious side to these programmes and the influence they can have on the viewing public.

'Unprofessionalism'

For example, what impression of a career in the NHS is set in the minds of young people aspiring to be the future generation of nurses, doctors or chief executives when they watch programmes filled with unprofessionalism and poor conduct?

How can we expect patients to respect the NHS and its staff when they are predominantly portrayed as people who seem to come to work purely to continue their social life?

Just in the past month or so, there have been numerous instances of this.

In Holby City and Casualty, nurses, doctors and other staff gossip, flirt and argue with each other, usually while treating a patient at the same time.

But, not to worry, the patient doesn't mind and more often than not joins in.

Patient confidentiality is breached constantly.

Cases are discussed regularly between staff, and even with other patients, in full earshot of anyone that can hear, including the patient themselves while nurses refer to patients affectionately as 'alkies' or 'the woman who never shuts up'.

Data breaches are common, with patient records left in public areas or worse, downloaded onto portable devices only to be lost later in the programme.

Eating, drinking and smoking directly outside A&E are also common practice while on duty and in areas where signs are clearly displayed to the contrary, as is the use of mobile phones to make personal calls.

'Unrealistic views'

How can we expect patients to respect the NHS and its staff when they are predominantly portrayed as people who seem to come to work purely to continue their social life?

Staff chatting, having affairs and even saying how bored they are (twice in one episode) give unrealistic views of what is actually an incredibly busy and demanding vocation, requiring hard work.

Medical procedures must be researched for accuracy, so why can't Holby City and Casualty reflect the work and practices of a 'real' hospital instead of what is a very blurred reality?

Staff, equipment and theatres lie idle just waiting for emergency patients to be admitted for surgery.

No schedules exist and no operations are cancelled and this service is provided 24/7 with surgeons and consultants appearing from nowhere to operate.

Probably one of the biggest failings of these dramas is to promote good hygiene in the form of hand-washing and using hand gel.

As the country faces an increase in swine flu cases, shouldn't we be seeing active signs of infection control and prevention in our hospital dramas?

'Blurred reality'

Obviously, the viewing public are not naive and the majority of people can separate fact from fiction, but it cannot be denied that some people may think this is a true picture of hospital life.

Surely the BBC should be doing all it can to promote the good work and professionalism of the NHS?

The NHS is after all the largest employer in Britain.

Medical procedures must be researched for accuracy, so why can't Holby City and Casualty reflect the work and practices of a 'real' hospital instead of what is a very blurred reality?

Nurses and doctors have a difficult enough job at the best of times without having to live up to inappropriate role models but perhaps a group of individuals working hard together to save lives and improve the health of its patients in a caring and conscientious manner is just not good TV?





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