Hospital_banner_bannerThe Hospital: Life and Death in the NHS © BBC

The joys and challenges of series producing

Creative Skillset's 2016 Series Producer Programme alumni Tom Currie takes us behind the scenes of Hospital

How did the series come about?

Series Producer Tom CurriePatrick Holland and Danny Horan wanted to find a new way of creatively demonstrating the challenges facing a large hospital today. They approached Simon Dickson and Lorraine Charker-Phillips at Label1 to develop a fast turnaround series to TX weeks after filming finished. 

The series is a portrait of the NHS in unprecedented times through the eyes of people on the frontline who face more pressure than ever this winter to balance the competing needs of life and death emergencies and pre-planned elective operations. Myself and Gilly Greenslade were the series producers. 

What is Hospital about?

Hospital is a six part 9pm observational documentary series for BBC Two which shows the modern NHS as you have never seen it before, through the people on the frontline who face more pressure than ever this winter to balance the competing needs of life and death emergencies and pre-planned elective operations. It was filmed over six weeks between October and November 2016 with complete and unfettered access to Imperial College Healthcare, one of the UK’s largest trusts, in a condensed production schedule with fast turnaround edits to broadcast in January 2017. 

What was filming like?

Hospital © BBCThe six-week shoot was incredibly demanding for all involved, from long hours and night shifts in a high intensity emotionally charged environment quickly segueing to an equally punishing edit schedule to get the films turned around. Getting the tonal balance right was difficult, what we filmed was powerful but at times bleak, and the series needed to be invitational and not make people fearful of going into hospital. We had a responsibility to reveal the raw reality of a topic that has so much national focus but without being political. 

What makes Hospital unique?

Hospital © BBCFast turnaround programmes are usually the preserve of single films, but the BBC gave a commitment to make a series of six, featuring a range of characters and jobs from across the hospital – all key decision makers – but never previously focused on: the lady that has to check the free beds each morning, the team who have to arrange the discharge of patients with complex social care needs and the man who wanders the corridors with his chip and pin machine to collect money from so called ‘heath tourists’.

We wanted to make the most complex and sophisticated hospital documentary series we could and I don’t think there has been anything like it since the BAFTA winning The Trust made for Channel 4 in 2002. We aimed to demonstrate the same commitment to how the NHS works but combine journalistic focus with the powerful human interest we’ve come to know through series such as 24 hours in A&E."

The series hears from frontline doctors in a way never seen before and is a very open and honest look at the pressures they face. At its heart it shows the inter-connectivity between the complex decisions the staff have to make and the consequences for patients in a constant drama of need against limited resources. The traditional human drama is still there, but the series brings to life the stories we read about in the papers such as bed pressures and cancelled operations. It's a frank look at the colossal pressures as the NHS tries to cope with the daily drama of running at, and sometimes beyond capacity.

Anything else you'd like to tell us Tom?

Yes, we really do owe a great deal to those we filmed. Some of our main contributors died after we finished filming and we would not have a series had it not been for the generous gift their families have given us to broadcast their stories. The series is the result of a huge team effort and something we are all very proud to have been a part of. There was a shared feeling within the team at all levels that what we were making was important, in fact, that may have been the only thing getting us through at times. The crisis in the NHS has taken many headlines this year and John Humphrys challenged Jeremy Hunt on our first episode on the Today programme. We hope that the staff and patients at Imperial feel that we’ve done them justice. 

My 'Top Tips' for making productions run smoothly!

  • Be available to your team at all hours whether on an editorial or emotional level
  • Never underestimate the power of being on the floor yourself with shooting teams – don’t confine yourself to the office
  • Not every decision you make will be right – but make one and stick to it
  • Look after your team and yourself. Food, water and sleep are key to a successful production despite crazy hours. The sun will rise in the morning and bring more problems that you will need to solve 
  • Be prepared to listen to everyone’s point of view – great ideas are not the monopoly of the experienced
  • Keep a sense of humour at all times.

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