TV review: The Big Hospital Experiment, and Lost Films of World War Two

13 September 2019

BBC/Blast! Films/Ryan McNamara

The Big Hospital Experiment  (Wednesdays, BBC2)

The Big Hospital Experiment  (Wednesdays, BBC2)

WE ALL know that the NHS is precious, and that it is chronically under-resourced. What on earth is the solution? The Royal Derby Hospital is holding trials of a scheme billed as a radical social experiment: bringing in volunteers. The Big Hospital Experiment (Wednesdays, BBC2) follows the deployment of 14 young people across the hospital. After a short course in basic health care, they are let loose on the wards.

Erik has never made a cup of tea before, and doesn’t have the first idea. Will left school a year ago, and has not managed to hold down a job for any length of time; his first conversation with his ward sister involves trying to negotiate smoking breaks. Deborah is reduced to tears at the sight of a stoma bag.

It is a brave experiment, and makes compelling viewing. Unsurprisingly, some of the volunteers appear to be naturals, while others flounder. But, for all their occasional haplessness, the focus was happily not on the fecklessness of the Snowflake Generation. Instead, the volunteers were shown, by and large, making sincere efforts to get it right. And the staff — for whom their arrival is clearly a bit of a mixed blessing — show remarkable patience when they get it wrong.

There are small but moving triumphs: two young women persuade an elderly patient to eat, entering into a sweet dialogue of encouragement with the help of a white board and marker pen. The patient whose stoma bag so upset Deborah responds with enormous generosity, with the result that she manages to change it next time without a fuss. Erik spontaneously offers to clean a patient’s teeth, shocked that no one else has had time to do so.

This fly-on-the-wall documentary has started well. If nothing else, it offers a humbling reminder of the daily realities of patient care, carried out by poorly paid nursing staff up and down the country. It is hard to imagine that the participants will be anything other than profoundly changed by their experience. Whether papering over the cracks in our health system like this is the answer is another question altogether.

Over on BBC4, there was a fascinating insight into the past. Lost Films of World War Two (BBC4, Thursday of last week) brought together a collection of film footage taken by amateurs. Never previously broadcast, most of it was hidden away in attics. As such, it offers a uniquely personal view of the war from the unfiltered perspective of so-called ordinary people. We saw a tour of Europe on the brink of war, filmed by a family prone to more adventurous holidays than your typical fortnight in Scarborough.

There was insight into Dunkirk, the bombing of Sheffield, and the harrowing story of an RAF pilot charged with overseeing the Battle of the Atlantic with inadequate equipment. Interviews with relatives helped to fill in some of the gaps. It is just a shame that it was tucked away on BBC4.

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