TV UK, 9 July

The blind spots in a doctor's-eye view of the NHS.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Culture

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With health set to be one of the key issues at the forthcoming general election, Channel 4’s current series The Practice (Mondays at 8pm) looks at how developments in the health service, and in society, are affecting a GP practice in Brighton.

The second episode, this Monday, is called ‘Care Addicts’, suggesting an exploration of the changing relationship between patients and the health service, and the potentially unhealthy obsession with health. Alongside traditional hypochondria, a variety of complaints such as chronic back pain, work-related stress and irritable bowel syndrome seem to be stretching the health service beyond its competence, and putting extra strain on professionals.

In fact, the programme focuses on somewhat less controversial problems: the two patients featured are an old-fashioned alcoholic and a manic depressive. The label ‘care addicts’ seems inappropriate, since neither is obsessed with medical attention as such, but certainly the programme shows how such individuals use up resources, not least the time of their doctors.

The question hanging over the programme, though, is ‘what’s your point?’. The doctor’s-eye-view of the health service is not as illuminating as one might hope. There is a bit of obligatory tut-tutting about how alcoholism is on the increase, and a suggestion that greater resources are needed, but there does seem to be an implicit tendency to blame the patients for being so screwed up.

The two patients are well cast. Both are pretty hopeless – the alcoholic seems to have decided that he might as well drink as much as he can while he’s waiting for a place in a treatment centre, while the manic depressive is just out of it for most of the programme. Interestingly, both have saint-like partners who talk lovingly about the real person behind the illness. Perhaps these are the real care addicts, pinning all their hopes on the health service to bring back people who may no longer exist.

That brings us neatly to Waking the Dead (BBC1, Sunday and Monday at 9pm). The crime drama is entering its fourth series, with a reputation for being better than average British fare. Perhaps this is because a team dedicated to reopening old cases can work at a more leisurely pace, and has more time for spontaneous philosophical discussions and musings on history, politics and religion. This doesn’t happen on CSI.

The opening two-parter starts with a man who had his head nailed to the floor just after the war. Much is made of the fact that such a murder would have been particularly horrific to the more genteel inhabitants of post-war Britain, and the silver-bearded boss Boyd tries to sensitise his callous young detectives by asking them to hammer a nine-inch nail into the skull of a cadaver. Disappointingly, they decline. I won’t give any more away, except to say that the story gets more horrible as it goes on, and all the politics is a bit of a red herring. The very ending is good, though.

Waking the Dead’s concern with therapeutic closure, and the morbid psychological orientation of its stories, suggests a realignment of police work to mirror that taking place in the health service. The BBC website asks fans which character’s job they would most like (1). The detectives come bottom, the psychological profiler is in second place, and the winner is the forensic pathologist. It’s a sick world, all right.

Read on:

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(1) Waking the Dead homepage

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