Reviews TV

Doctors and Nurses

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 09 January 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:114
  1. Giulio Bognolo, editorial registrar (gbognolo{at}
  1. BMJ

    BBC 1, Tuesdays at 10 35 pm, from 13 January

    Rating: Embedded ImageEmbedded ImageEmbedded Image

    Can you set a comedy in an NHS department and generate a good laugh while still dealing with serious issues? Scriptwriters Nigel Smith and Phil Hammond have had a good try, with reasonably good results.

    Their six-episode series is located at the fictional St Anne's Hospital, on the Isle of Wight, and centres around the love-hate relationship between two orthopaedic consultants, Roy Glover (played by Adrian Edmondson) and George Banatwala (Madhav Sharma). Roy is totally committed to the NHS, trying hard to save and cure as many patients as he can, regardless of the personal consequences. He is even prepared to risk suspension to carry out the operation that he promised to a patient, defying the manager's decision to cancel it. George, on the other hand, is on a constant quest for personal wealth and success. He has a natural talent for surgery, unfortunately combined with a total lack of humanity towards patients. George is not bothered by long waiting lists—if you don't wait for something you don't value it, he says.

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    Adrian Edmondson (left) and Madhav Sharma (right) in Doctors and Nurses

    Their totally different approaches to medicine—patients first versus money and power first—generates enormous conflict between the two. Roy is aware of George's surgical ability and understands his own limitations, while George knows that without Roy's dedication to hard work he would not be able to spend most of his time on private practice and money making. Roy travels to the hospital by bus, and is almost run over by George at the wheel of a Rolls-Royce. They need each other's help to survive, but are too proud to ask for it.

    Add to this a determined sister, prepared to do anything to raise funds for the ward—including organising an auction of deceased patients' possessions—a lazy nurse who shuns routine ward duties, an over-committed and overambitious registrar, who boasts that she can carve verses in the skins of fruit, a clumsy house officer, and a manager who used to work for the supermarket chain Sainsbury's, and you have a potentially hilarious working environment.

    The strong language that permeates the script—the NHS “is in the shit,” says Roy, while an elderly woman happily defines George as a “wanker”—means that the series will be shown after the 9 pm watershed. Explicit sexual remarks are frequent—for example, there is great excitement among the hospital's staff for the annual bicycle race around the island, as any injured cyclists admitted to the department will take part in the “who has the biggest knob competition.”

    Nurse viewers might complain that in reality they would never stroll from one bed to another measuring the length of cyclists' penises while pretending to give them a bed bath. However, they and other NHS professionals might recognise other things. For some parts of the plot do reflect the real world of the NHS. A hip operation is due to be postponed for six months as the current year's budget is overspent. In pursuing a medical or surgical career, good connections and family support at times count more than clinical skills. Surgery is not an easy profession for women—as the registrar, Lucy Potter (Abigail Cruttenden), points out, there is only one female orthopaedic consultant, and she used to be a man.

    In its bid for laughs, Doctors and Nurses may resort to caricature, but that is the stuff of comedy. The series is light and funny, exploring the extremes that we would prefer not to have in the NHS, but which are occasionally present. However, if you are expecting to see some real medicine, it would be best to look elsewhere because that is not what this series is about

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