‘Hospital’ reveals the rising Covid challenges

Tuesday: Hospital; (BBC Two, 11.30pm)

Consultant Gynaecological Oncologist, University Hospital Coventry & Warwickshire. Smruta Shanbhag
Consultant Gynaecological Oncologist, University Hospital Coventry & Warwickshire. Smruta Shanbhag

For obvious reasons, we’ve all taken an increased interest in the NHS over the past couple of years, and as a result healthcare-based documentaries are all over the TV schedules.

Although it’s great to see the real-life heroes finally getting the praise and exposure they deserve on the box, there’s one series that stands head and shoulders about the rest.

Like most of the others, the BBC’s award-winning Hospital programme features patients undergoing treatment, including emergency cases. However, where it really excels is looking at these cases in the wider context of the creaking NHS and the remarkable staff who do an incredible job in keeping the show on the road. It’s a timely slice of the reality behind the headlines and isn’t scared of exposing the infuriating bureaucracy that allegedly plagues our health service.

Emma Loach, Commissioning Editor of BBC Documentaries, says: “During these unprecedented times, Hospital is an incredibly important series that is able to take viewers right to the frontline of the NHS and reveal the challenges faced with urgency and humanity.”

The seventh series began last week and we were immediately thrown into the action at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) NHS Trust, which you may remember delivered the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine back in December.

With the pandemic leaving nearly five million people waiting for routine operations and procedures in England alone, we saw doctors balancing waiting lists, staffing shortages and routine care alongside the management of Covid-19 safe protocols as they were forced into some incredibly difficult decisions.

Professor Andy Hardy, Chief Executive Officer at UHCW NHS Trust, said: “This is undoubtedly a vital time in the history of the NHS, with the UK’s entire health system coming together to respond to and recover from arguably the greatest challenge it has ever faced. Our amazing team works tirelessly to ensure that we always put our patients first as we face the continuing demands of Covid-19 head on, alongside crucial work to restore our services in a safe and effective way.”

In tonight’s second instalment, the gynaecological oncology department at University Hospital Coventry, led by surgeon Smruta Shanbhag, emerges from the pandemic facing a mounting backlog of suspected cancer patients. As women previously afraid to visit their GP because of Covid-19 reveal symptoms that have been worrying them, new referrals for suspected gynaecological cancer reach almost 50 a week.

With a referral target to see patients in two weeks and with some complex cases already breaching this goal, Smruta and her team are under pressure to find diagnostic and theatre space in the hospital. But with more than 70 theatre staff still shielding because of new Covid rules and only 22 out of 32 theatres able to be utilised, it is an uphill battle.

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