This is Going to Hurt is a nonfiction novel turned BBC drama series and, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of it by now, maybe you even read the book it’s based on. The blurb reads; “Welcome to the life of a junior doctor: 97-hour weeks, life and death decisions, a constant tsunami of bodily fluids, and the hospital parking metre earns more than you. Scribbled in secret after endless days, sleepless nights and missed weekends, Adam Kay’s This is Going to Hurt provides a no-holds-barred account of his time on the NHS front line. Hilarious, horrifying and heartbreaking, this diary is everything you wanted to know – and more than a few things you didn’t – about life on and off the hospital ward.”
In the 10 days it’s been out this series is already causing a stir on social media. Floods of comments about the “disgusting humour” and “misogynistic language” and people wondering… is this really what it’s like to work in the NHS? Is that what our Doctors and Nurses really do to get through their seemingly endless 15 hour shifts? My thoughts are… probably. When you’re surviving purely on coffee and humour… it’s likely that the line between what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour gets blurred often. It’s the attitude of “if you don’t laugh you’ll cry”, which many people understand, myself included! When you dig a little deeper one thing that no one is denying is that immense pressure is the reality for NHS employees and This Is Going To Hurt doesn’t hold back when it comes to discussing mental health.
I’ve experienced the NHS on many levels; professionally – as a content marketer specialising in the NHS and public sector, a huge part of my job involves looking into the culture within the NHS as an employer, and delving into the experiences of the staff on the ground. And, personally – from being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and Epilepsy at the age of 9, (nurses were my best friends growing up!), to my 16-year-old sister being diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma in 2014 where over the course of two and a half years she spent over 550 days in various hospitals. That meant it’s where she experienced her first gin, where we spent many Christmases, and it’s the place we even treated as a dressing room for weddings and family parties when we were in our teens. I’ve even been in the same situation as Adam Kay’s friend’s characters, Greg and Emma, considering paying for private healthcare just to get that appointment, or that scan they said I needed. Now my experience of the NHS is coming full circle, with many of my closest friends working as nurses in the NHS.
I’ve also watched many previous dramas with glossy depictions of hospital life from Holby City to Casualty and Grey’s Anatomy to Scrubs. So watching this series felt refreshingly but brutally life-like. The condition of the hospital, the wards, the nurses and doctors resonates deeply.
In the first episode, seeing the pressure Dr Kay is under to ‘discharge anyone’ just to free up beds is one I and many others know far too well. In fact, I once waited 30 hours and sat in a chair in a waiting room because there were no beds. Of course this isn’t any individual’s fault. I completely understand that there were patients in front of me who needed beds far more than I did, and the hospital staff were doing the best they could with what they were given. But that’s the point. They don’t have enough resources or support and that’s where This Is Going To Hurt really hits the nail on the head.
The discomfort, heartbreak and anger about the condition of the NHS that many people have expressed from watching This Is Going To Hurt only mimics how the staff feel everyday in their own place of work. Nothing about this series is shocking to them, it’s just refreshing to finally see reality reflected on the small screen. A nurse friend of mine told me “the humour isn’t intended as disrespect, it’s just how we cope. Laughter is the best medicine they say, well laughter is our only medicine”. Upon speaking to several NHS nurses about the series they’ve joked about how relatable it is even now… 15 years after it’s set. The series focuses on ‘obs and gynae’ yet Adam’s reality is only the tip of the iceberg. The theme of poor mental health amongst hospital staff is clear throughout, and this is an area that many many NHS workers relate to. During the COVID-19 pandemic this friend confessed to me that “getting covid felt like a blessing, it meant I got 10 days to rest from the stress”. You don’t have to look very hard on Twitter to find many more examples of people relating to this content:
“A few funny bits but too close to home in many areas. I think there is a great deal of PTSD surfacing here for many. Is this good or bad? We all know colleagues who didn’t make it” – Professor and Consultant of Anaesthesia
“Maybe we all don’t see it as funny because it’s all too real and this is what our lives are like, we are all haunted by the same ghosts past/present/future. I hope it opens up the public’s eyes to what the reality of being a healthcare worker actually looks like” – Vascular Registrar
“#ThisIsGoingToHurt has left me distraught. What got me was the accurate depiction of the system, but most of all, poor Shruti. I felt like I was watching myself at times” – Ex-neurosurgery Registrar.
It’s hard to scroll through the comments about #ThisIsGoingToHurt without getting emotional. Many of those who work in healthcare are experiencing a type of PTSD, and they’re openly sharing their personal stories and re-lived trauma. For me, the two biggest takeaways from the series and the reaction to This Is Going To Hurt are that the NHS is seriously underfunded and understaffed and this isn’t anything new, but also that there is a massive mental health crisis amongst our healthcare workers. The issues and experiences that NHS staff have known about, and lived through, for decades has now been brought to light by the BBC programme for the public to see in plain view.
It is clear that the NHS, and the healthcare sector as a whole needs better support in place for employees who are facing challenging situations everyday, and that more needs to be done to encourage a speak up culture where staff can raise concerns before the damage is irreversible.
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