Its unflinching look at the inner workings of five busy London hospitals lays bare the daily challenges for the NHS and its staff as they battle to care for patients at a time of unprecedented financial pressure, with a £22billion funding deficit and rising demand.
Viewers have reacted with strong emotions as they witness the difficult choices that have to be made every day. While there’s no doubt it’s gripping, it feels uncomfortable to watch staff making potentially life or death decisions about which patient’s operation takes priority and allocating scarce intensive care beds.
Pressure on beds is a key theme of the series, which does an excellent job of highlighting just what a complex issue this is. From the elderly lady waiting for a community bed before she can be discharged to the homeless man with nowhere to go, it is clear that there are no easy answers here. I take my hat off to the teams who are dealing with these massive challenges every day of the week.
So far, so negative. But there are positives. And, as with every real-life NHS TV series, they are the NHS staff whose professionalism and compassion shines through every episode.
There are the surgeons who give up their Saturday to carry out a desperately needed operation, and the ward sisters trying to secure a better future for a homeless or vulnerable elderly patient. These are people whose dedication to their calling is truly humbling.
There have also been some stand-out moments that highlight what incredible innovation the NHS is capable of - despite the intense pressures.
In episode four, we saw 50-year-old Selwyn receive a pioneering non-invasive treatment to cure a major tremor in his right hand. Previously unable to write his name or hold a drink without spilling it, he stepped out of the scanner after the treatment with almost 100% control restored. Truly remarkable.
This is another example of the good news I referred to in my last blog. Despite the immense pressures the service is under, the NHS continues to innovate new forms of treatment to offer new hope to more patients.
While the TV cameras will always prefer the drama of a hospital, it’s important to point out that they are by no means the only places where you will find health service innovation.
Around 90% of patients’ interactions with the NHS take place in primary care - in GPs’ surgeries and community settings - and there is no shortage of innovation here too.
One area where this is evident is the work by healthcare providers and charities to improve the care of people with long-term conditions such as asthma and diabetes.
Take diabetes, a condition that affects an estimated 4.5million people in the UK and costs the health service a staggering £10billion a year (10% of the NHS’ total budget).
The charity Diabetes UK has pioneered an important step forward in improving care for people with Type 2 diabetes (around 90% of those with diabetes). Working with my own company, it has created ‘information prescriptions’ that are embedded in the GP’s electronic record system. These work in two important ways:
- They alert the GP during a consultation to key health indicators such as patients’ HBA1C levels, blood pressure and cholesterol. This happens whether or not the patient is there with a problem related to their diabetes - so the GP has a holistic view of their condition every time they meet.
- The GP prints off the key information for the patient to take home with them, along with information and advice on how to self-manage their condition.
Clinicians are enthusiastic about the development - saying that it improves care and gives patients the skills and knowledge to do more for themselves. There is also clearly the potential to reduce the cost of diabetes care over the long-term, by spotting more problems before they happen.
So, back to Hospital. What does it tell us about the NHS?
Yes, it is dealing with some incredibly tough challenges, but there is also some good news and certainly hope for the future, as clinicians continue to use their skills and ingenuity to devise innovative ways of providing some of the very best quality of care in the world.
I’ll leave you with a challenge. Maybe you think you could do a better job of running the service? The BBC has set up an interactive quiz where you can test your judgement on some anonymised real-life cases. It’s a real eye-opener.