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Sometimes, however, it’s just not possible to be completely HOLBY CITY VS. REAL LIFE

Who is easiest to work with, actors or real patients? Actors – you can walk away from them. The actors I’ve met on set have been absolutely charming. They really have been really nice off-camera even if their on-screen personas are not as nice. Patients? Patients are people, but I’ve not had any really bad experiences.

Is there anything nurses get away with in Holby that they wouldn’t get away with in real life? The overt flirting and talking over the patients about how much they’d been drinking the previous night. Tragically though I think that sort of thing does happen. It might be rare but it does happen.

Who has the longest shifts, Holby City crew or real nurses? If you compare the Kiev shoot I was on, the Holby City crew! They start at 7am and go on to 9pm. Most of my nurse colleagues will kill me for saying that!

What do you enjoy most – working on Holby City or working as a traditional nurse? Traditional nursing. I would go back like a shot, I love it.

‘I do think it is very important to be accurate, and to be fair to the writers and researchers, they understand that too’

“I’ve had more pre-script involvement in the past year or so -

I’ve read so many of the scripts now that I can tell who wrote them without checking. If I get a script, I will mark out the areas which don’t feel or sound right and I speak to my contacts.” Brian feels strongly that accuracy is of paramount importance on

a show like Holby City. Although he concedes that the show is essentially a drama, he feels a strong responsibility not to mislead viewers about conditions or cause unnecessary worry and distress. “I do think it is very important to be accurate, and to be fair to

the writers and researchers, they understand that too.” “If you’re describing a symptom it should be a real one, and if

there’s a question about a diagnosis, it can’t be so far off the mark that it’s going to concern people.” He also believes that the show should be plausible to viewers

who work in the medical profession. “Lots of nurses watch it because they like to pick out the

mistakes. That’s how I explain it to the writers – you’ll have nursing staff falling over laughing if you leave that in.” “Examples of things I have had to veto include the chairman

walking around the ward sacking nurses, patients on respirators with endo-tubes talking, people with perforated oesophaguses up and about eating a normal diet, and patients with extreme cardiac failure apparently able to walk up flights of stairs while having a conversation!” Painting a realistic picture of hospital staff isn’t always easy, due

to the sometimes mundane tasks that nurses have to perform. “It tends to be larger things and major problems with the patients

which make good drama, so there isn’t always the time to show things that good nurses do, like just spending time with patients and holding their hand, or discussing what’s going to happen to them.”

accurate. “I know quite a few people who ring up and suggest things that

we need to look at, such as why they never lift properly, but it’s probably because they only had one of the actors on set that day when they really needed two. We do try and get even that right, but you have to work within the confines of a drama.” As well as advising on the hospital drama, Brian is also involved

in a charity delivering medical resources to Ukraine. “I’ve been going to Ukraine helping with a hospital out there for

the last 10 years, taking equipment out there and driving trucks with my friends.” “In fact some of the equipment from the Holby City set is now

being used in the Uzhgorod Municipal Hospital, because when they changed the set they kindly agreed to let me have some of the equipment. All the equipment is real!” The highlight of Brian’s involvement in the series was towards

the end of last year, when the scriptwriters based the storyline for the feature-length Christmas special around Brian’s own experi- ences of working with hospitals in Ukraine. “I’m very pleased that they took that up as a storyline. I went to

Kiev with them to do the on-set advice.” “I’d been to the set on a number of occasions but that was the

first time I’d been an on-set advisor, and that’s because they knew I knew Ukraine and had contacts there.” “The on-set advice in Kiev was very different and more

challenging, I had never been involved in a film shoot before. I had to get used to the way a film set works (not getting in the way, being quiet when action is called) and responding to questions and instructions to fit with the shooting schedule, such as setting the ECG monitor to the correct rhythm, taping the endotracheal tube to the actor, checking the prosthetic and applying bandages - of- ten all at the same time.” Another important element of Brian’s role is advising writers on

the changing landscape of the NHS. Despite personal reservations about the upcoming reforms, he feels that they will provide an interesting platform for the show. “From a drama point of view, the NHS bill is a gift to the writers. If

you take it to it’s logical conclusion, it gives individual trusts significant leeway and freedom to do almost anything, and the clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) could make significant changes to the way acute care is delivered.” “For a drama that is meant to at least reflect the broad thrust of

reality, it could make quite a difference, and actually make it quite a bit more exciting.” Being a BBC show, Holby City has to be careful to be impartial

on political issues, although it does strive to represent realistic views of NHS staff. Scripts are written up to six months in advance, so it isn’t

possible to be completely up-to-date or respond to topical issues. A recent storyline about breast implants was aired at around the same time the recent breast implants scandal hit the news, but this was purely a coincidence, he explains. “Keeping it very topical is almost impossible, you just have to

get the themes.” Brian’s pride in the series is obvious as he speaks, and he

clearly seems to feel that they are getting it right with Holby City. “I think it’s as realistic as you’re going to get in a drama.

Sometimes you’re stretching plausibility a fair bit, but if you watch American dramas, they stretch it a damn sight further!”

Nursing in Practice March/April 2012 25

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