Why we opened our doors to TV cameras

As the trailer hits screens for BBC Two’s new television series featuring our hospitals, Trust director of communications Michelle Dixon explains why we became one of a growing number of NHS organisations to open our doors to documentary filmmakers.

For a long time, we haven’t seemed able to get enough of medical shows on television – from soaps like the BBC’s Casualty and Holby City, to observational documentaries such as Channel 4’s One Born Every Minute or 24 Hours in A&E, and even the comedic – Channel 4’s Green Wing or the US’s Scrubs. Apparently, House, starring Huge Laurie as a fictional US doctor, was the most watched television programme in the world in 2008.

Many NHS trusts have featured in television shows over the years and some, like St George’s in London and Leeds General Infirmary, have been the focus of long-running series. At Imperial College Healthcare, we began exploring our possible involvement in a major television documentary a couple of years ago. We wanted the chance to use the interest in medical programming to show the great care all our staff and hospitals provide, as well as the innovation and commitment. But we also wanted to see if there was a way of sharing the growing challenges, especially of how NHS organisations like ours can best work with our patients and partners to respond to changing needs and demands.

In late 2015, we began discussions with Label1, a new independent television production company whose founders have a long track record in creating ground-breaking factual programmes, including some of the best known medical shows. They were looking to develop a new documentary format for BBC Two.

Just over a year later, after much hard work and not a little angst, the first episode of Hospital is now due to air. The six-part series will go out on BBC Two at 9pm from Wednesday 11 January.

It is the culmination of months of research, engagement, shadowing and developing approaches to some tricky practical issues (such as how best to request consent from staff and patients to participate), followed by over six weeks of often 24/7 filming, and then checking and editing, which is still on-going. Label1 and the Trust are extremely grateful to the many patients, and their families and carers, as well as to all our staff who allowed us to film and share their experiences.

At no stage was it an easy decision to allow the cameras in but there has been strong support at all levels of the Trust – and amongst our partners – to show how a major hospital group like ours works. The series covers the huge range of day-to-day activities, from the small acts of kindness that make such a difference to an individual to ground-breaking research trials that help change practice world-wide.

We also think it’s really important to share the opportunities and challenges, the highs and the lows, with our patients and local communities. It’s your service as much as ours and the only way we can ensure we maintain and build on the very best of the NHS is by working together.

It doesn’t always make for comfortable viewing but we think the end result is the better for it. We hope you feel the same – and we hope you can find time to watch the whole series as each episode reflects different aspects of our work. We would love to hear what you think once you’ve had a chance to watch the show – you can share your thoughts or questions with us via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Click here to watch the trailer and learn more about BBC Two’s Hospital.