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'Hospital' - six part BBC documentary

Hospital - group shot of the doctors and other hospital staff (BBC Use)

11th January - 15 February on BBC2 at 9pm.

Filmed over six weeks, Hospital is the story of the NHS in unprecedented times.

Edited and broadcast within weeks of filming, this timely six part series for BBC2 captures the day-to-day realities facing the NHS right now.

With exceptional access to one of the UK’s biggest and busiest NHS Trusts, Hospital will bring audiences intensely close to the issues and challenges that continually dominate the headlines. Each episode will show with exceptional candour the ever-increasing demands on the NHS’s services, from intricate and morally complex medical ethics to health tourism; from A&E overcrowding to cancelled operations.

Shown from multiple perspectives and for the first time, the audience will see the extraordinary dilemmas and decision-making which happen every day for the consultants, surgeons and bed managers, all of which have profound consequences for patients and treatments.

Crews shot across five hospitals in Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust London to understand the complex decision making and the impact each one can have, following the key decision makers as they attempt to care for nearly 20,000 people every week. But standing in their way are limited resources, an increasing number of emergency patients and a clock that never stops ticking. 

Episode one

Late October 2016… Two patients await life-saving surgery at St Mary’s in Paddington, the biggest of the five hospitals in the Trust.  They will both need a bed on the intensive care ward.  But the hospital is full to capacity - on red alert - and there is only one bed left.

67-year old Simon needs an operation to remove a cancerous tumour from his oesophagus.   As he is being prepped for surgery, St Mary's takes a call from an ambulance speeding to London en route from Norwich.  In the back is 78-year-old Janice.  She is being ‘blue lighted’ to St Mary’s with a ruptured aneurysm in her aorta and is less than six hours from death. If she arrives alive, and survives the surgery, she - like Simon - will also need a bed in intensive care.

The surgeons - Professor George Hanna and Richard Gibbs who are slated to carry out the operations are at the centre of this film. We follow their attempts to do the right thing for both patients in a complex life-and-death situation where two into one just won't go.

“To cure Simon, he needs to have the operation”, says Professor Hanna. But, in a world where beds are at a premium, operating can seem like the easy part. As surgeon Gibbs remarks, “I sometimes feel that I spend as much energy on trying to organise and manage beds… to allow us to just get on with [the operation]”.

Simon has had his cancer operation cancelled once already and having completed extensive chemotherapy needs his surgery to be completed soon. Simon explains, “You just rely on them to do the operation. You just want it done; you reach a point when you just can’t keep putting it off forever.”

Consultant in charge of the Intensive Care Unit, Simon Ashworth, is also feeling the pressure.  It's down to him to make the difficult decision about who to admit for surgery: "It does feel to me like the elastic is a bit nearer to breaking now than it perhaps ever was. Everyone thinks what they’re doing is important and guess what everybody’s right”.  

Two floors down from ICU, 18-year old Deborah is anxiously awaiting a life-saving bone marrow transplant to cure her of chronic sickle cell disease. St Mary’s is the only specialist centre in the UK that has pioneered a treatment for sickle cell disease with bone marrow transplants that aren’t the normal 100 per cent donor match. Deborah’s brother Sam is a fifty per cent match and the family’s hopes rest on him being able to provide her with the bone marrow she needs to save her life.

Episodes 2 – 6 will then follow on consecutive Wednesdays in January and February 2017

OpenLearn will feature an interactive quiz, looking at complex health care decisions using real life case studies, giving you the chance to explore which decision you would have made if faced with the situation. To take part and find out more about the topics raised in the series, go to our website at

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