IBMS members in Secret Life of the Hospital: Revealed
Brinkworth Productions has gone behind closed doors, visiting the laboratories at Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust for their new documentary series on Channel 5’s Secret Life of the Hospital: Revealed.
The show highlights the valuable roles that often go unnoticed in hospitals around the UK, filming and interviewing people who are involved in a variety of “hidden” areas that help keep NHS services going.
In the first episode, the film crew explored the laboratories and interviewed IBMS member Matthew Allen, a biomedical scientist in the microbiology department and Aled Lewis, Deputy Laboratory Manager in the Blood Sciences department.
Matthew shared an inside perspective on the filming process for the show:
“I was the bold biomedical scientist talking about the work we do here in microbiology. When the film crew came into the lab the brief that we were given was that they wanted to highlight sepsis. Their aim was to follow all things that were associated with a patient who had been flown into the hospital by helicopter with suspected sepsis.
They had covered her journey through the hospital and shown samples that were taken from her. The film crew told us that they had put a remote camera through the pneumatic pod system and the footage that have got from that was really good so the journey of the specimens from ward to lab was going to come across really well.
The blood culture sample was our sample to explain with regard to diagnosing sepsis. We tried to show the journey of the blood culture bottles through the microbiology lab but due to the timings (5 days on the Bactec, overnight subcultures, overnight sensitivity testing) that scenario was never going to happen in an afternoon.
As it turned out the patient did not have sepsis but we tried to explain what we would do if it were positive. All this was happening in a busy micro lab where we were trying to get through the routine daily work - and also mock up positive blood culture scenarios for Channel 5.
We forced a positive flag on a blood culture in the Bactec on cue for the camera. We also mocked up gram stains down the microscope to show the bugs. We staged loading and unloading blood culture bottles and staged people working away in a busy lab. However, the footage that did make the programme was taken when the staff performing their routine work (not staged) all filmed when they weren’t expecting it so that was good.
As for the close-ups of bacteria on the plates – I picked a couple of plates out of the discard bin from a patient with a mucky leg ulcer to show the camera crew what bugs on a plate looked like. I wasn’t expecting that to make the final cut that got into the programme!
At the time I thought we were giving the crew some background info. Had we known that they wanted a specific shot, we could have produced a lovely Salmonella on an XLD plate or a Clostridium perfringens with big zones of haemolysis or a classic Staph aureus.
There I was talking about sepsis with a couple of plates from a leg ulcer, so I wish I could have done that bit again. Knowing some biomedical scientists will have watched and thought, “those bugs are not what you would get from a sepsis patient” made me a bit disappointed. That was the trouble with this programme making – you have no ownership of what actually goes out on air.
The feedback regarding the programme is all positive. I think it highlighted that there is far more to hospitals than doctors and nurses and that is a good thing. It did highlight biomedical science (and the fact that we are not all mad scientists). More programmes need to be made to highlight all the disciplines – blood transfusion, haematology, histology, cytology as well as the microbiology and biochemistry seen in this programme. Overall it was good to be a source of great laughter from my daughter when she saw me on the telly.”
Biomedical scientist Aled Lewis was also filmed by the camera crew. He said,
“It was a real pleasure to be involved in the filming of this documentary. Laboratory work and its importance within healthcare has a relatively low profile; there is a general and widespread lack of awareness of what we do.
This was a great opportunity to raise the understanding of what laboratories do ‘behind the scenes’. The film crew took a genuine interest in the work and it was satisfying to see that the programme chose to share some of what they saw with the viewers.”
IBMS Fellow Lisa Stephens was also present at the filming. She added,
"It was lovely to see the hidden depths of the NHS portrayed, demonstrating how services such as pathology are integral to patient care and outcome."
We are delighted that the laboratories welcomed the film crew in to follow the journey of a sample and speak with some of the biomedical scientists at work. We hope that as more opportunities like this arise, programmes like this will help promote biomedical scientists and laboratory support staff roles in the NHS.
You can watch the programme on Channel 5 online.