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Is reality TV damaging the NHS? Here’s what two frontline staff think

Is reality TV damaging the NHS? Here’s what two frontline staff think

NHS reality TV debate

Fly-on-the-wall TV programmes seem to be all the rage, with dozens taking to our screens every week.

They are designed to give viewers an uninterrupted view into the everyday lives of those being filmed.

We love real-life medical shows like Channel 4’s 24 Hours In A&E and One Born Every Minute – but could their clever editing be giving us the wrong impression about how the NHS actually works? And are they stopping our medical staff working effectively?

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‘Yes’ says Philippa Vincent, a GP at a practice in north London

“Programmes such as Embarrassing Bodies and Fat Doctor give patients false expectations. For example, in my area a patient can’t even get assessed for weight-loss surgery until they have a body mass index of 50.

“Obesity is defined as a BMI of over 30, so many people think they are entitled to this when they’re not.

“General practice is never shown, which makes people think you should go straight to hospital when you’re feeling ill, rather than your GP.

“Your doctor is at the frontline and works ridiculously hard to keep people at home and in the community.

“You only need A&E when you have an accident or an emergency. A child with a fever isn’t (usually) an emergency and can (almost) always be dealt with by a call/visit to a doctor.

“There is never an honest discussion on these shows about the cost of treatment. You may be shown a young mum-of-two dying of cancer.

“She’s desperate to live a few more weeks so she can see her child in the school play.

“Everyone wants her to have the £15,000 treatment to give her a few more weeks, but on a population level these sorts of decisions are unsustainable within the NHS.

“It’s worth having this debate in public, but not in an emotional way that makes good TV.

“Sometimes in medicine there is a lot of uncertainty – there have been some really good programmes, such as Brain Doctors and Great Ormond Street, which showed a group of doctors actually discussing whether someone should be treated and how.

“But that’s rare and often it looks as though there is a clear route through every illness, but frequently there isn’t.”

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‘No’ says Nichola Massey, a London Ambulance Service paramedic

“The London Ambulance Service receives more than 5000 calls a day and reality TV shows help people appreciate how busy the service is and what constitutes a real emergency.

“Most people under 50 are often too quick to call 999, whereas the older generation are very stoical and frequently leave it too late.

“Programmes such as 999 What’s Your Emergency?, which was filmed partly at my station, may help to redress this.

“The programme also told viewers that it costs the taxpayer £250 every time an ambulance is sent out. The more people who know this the better. I’ve had a call out for a toothache before, which is ridiculous.

“It might sound odd, but I think it is really important for medical professionals within the NHS to see each other’s work, and reality shows help with this.

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“In fact, a recent survey by the British Medical Association (BMA) found that 53 per cent of medical professionals are in favour of NHS reality shows.

“I was recently called to an electrical explosion and an A&E registrar was there observing the scene. She admitted, understandably, that she was out of her comfort zone – and this is someone who is used to running a busy A&E department.

“I can’t bear dramas such as Casualty and Holby City, because they can be medically incorrect.

“While reality programmes might ham up the fact that you’re picking up a drunk off the streets, they do show the nitty-gritty.

“They also reveal that, though paramedics are very calm on the surface, we’re real people with real emotions who genuinely care about the nation’s health.”


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