HEALTH Secretary Jeremy Hunt should be locked in a dark room and made to watch last night’s BBC2 documentary Hospital on an endless loop.
Perhaps Hunt has seen the first series. If not, he can stay in there for a while longer. Or maybe the whole locking in a dark room task could be trusted to someone who is forgetful with keys.
Knowing the chutzpah of the man, he will probably grin and say the programme shows what an excellent job he is doing with the NHS.
The first series about St Mary’s Hospital in London spent much time dwelling on daily crisis management – too many patients and not enough doctors, nurses or beds is the short version.
Now the series has returned and the director of nursing is chairing a staff resource meeting. The vacancy rate is running at 14-16 per cent. More of the same, then; more numbers that don’t add up.
Then the phones start ringing, one by one. There has been a major incident at Westminster. The staffing crisis is immediately swapped for a more acute crisis.
The next hour is a remarkable testament to the NHS, to the skill and dedication of doctors who come together in a crisis. The documentary cameras just happen to be there, which is good timing or bad timing, depending on how you view these matters. But the resulting programme is remarkable – both breathless in the rush of events, and yet deeply calm too, as the professional staff go about their difficult work.
Patients are shunted around, operations are cancelled and the hospital goes into emergency mode. Terrorist Khalid Masood is wheeled in on a stretcher, his bloodied torso on show, and soon declared RIP.
If you count Masood, and perhaps you shouldn’t, six people died in the incident, and more than 50 were injured. The programme concentrates on three of those victims: two French teenagers who were on a school trip, and a man who’d been celebrating his 40th birthday.
The teenagers were badly injured, and Yann has had his scalp sliced open – a horrible injury sewn back layer by layer in a scene not for the squeamish. Vincent has suffered broken ribs and a collapsed lung, and is in danger.
Birthday boy Stephen is in a very poorly state, his leg broken and badly gashed. Surgeon Shehan Hettiaratchy says that in the past he would have needed an amputation.
What follows is at first a medical story – broken bodies to be repaired – and then a human one. We see poor, injured Stephen worrying about his wife, Cara, who escaped with bruises but saw everything as the car driven by Mahood ploughed into her husband.
“It’s really hard when you spend so much time with somebody and then they’re taken away and you’re suddenly really, really alone,” she says, crying.
Stephen is slowly, painfully put back together, and the ending is happier than you might have feared.
As for Yann and Victor, they are stars – funny teenagers still amid all the pain and confusion. The first time they meet again, Yann’s head has been shaved, stapled and stitched together – and he looks a fright. “Your new look is working for you,” Victor deadpans.
Later, Yann says something truly memorable after Victor asks about the souvenirs from Harrods – “I have nothing, just my underpants. The guy fucked me into nakedness on the pavement.”
Such spirit and wit from one so young provided an uplifting moment in sometimes grim but entirely marvellous piece of television.
And those boys seemed to stand as a rebuke to Masood and his idiot cruelty. He did his worst but they were whole again already, even if their bodies would take a while to catch up.
If you’ve not seen this programme, give it a watch – and then say a long prayer to the wonders of the NHS. And hope that nobody has found that key yet.