Keeping Britain Alive: The NHS In A Day

Thursday 11 April 2013, 15:10

Magnus Temple Magnus Temple Executive Producer

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Keeping Britain Alive: The NHS In A Day was always going to be an ambitious project, to try and take a snapshot of the NHS at such a critical time in its history. After all it treats 1.5 million of us every day. 

To get a sense of that scale, we wondered what it would be like if we filmed this enormous institution in just a single day. 

What would that make us think about an organisation that touches all of our lives?

Ann, Martin Drage, Alan Surgeon Martin Drage removed Alan's kidney and transplanted it into his wife, Ann

As one of the executive producers I was responsible for helping to shape the initial concept and from the start I was excited by the idea, but also found it pretty terrifying from a production point of view. 

With any other documentary series you'd spend months filming stories that developed and unfolded over time. With this we only had one chance at it and for many of the stories we didn't know quite what would happen on that day.

We wanted the day to feel as 'everyday' as possible, so Thursday, 18 October seemed the ideal candidate - midweek and neither in the middle of winter of summer.

Then came the enormous task of persuading NHS services to allow us to film with them. We spent about five months securing permissions, and researching with medical staff on the ground to find out what would be happening that we could film on 18 October.

And then there was the not insignificant task of assembling the camera crews, all of whom had to be trusted to go out into some of the most sensitive environments and return with meaningful footage.

GP Chris Abell Dr Chris Abell is one of three GPs responsible for the 3,500 inhabitants of Islay

On the day itself I was sat with my fellow executive producers in an office surrounded by white boards and phones, knowing that apart from react to what came up on the day, there was little more we could do. The die was cast.

In the end we had over 100 camera crews filming across the UK in 88 NHS services, including hospitals, GP surgeries, community services, ambulances and helicopters.

There were a small number of stories that were planned - like a scheduled surgery - but there were a huge number where we didn't know which patients were going to come in, who was going to give birth, who was going to end up with the emergency services and of course whether they would allow us to film with them.

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Dr Patankar operates on stroke victim Graham to remove a clot from his brain

When the crews returned, they brought with them a total of 1,217 hours of footage, but to be honest we had no real idea what that would all amount to until we started assembling stories in the edit.

And in some ways I felt this was the scariest part of the endeavour - knowing that there was no way back. So much effort and resources for just one day.

A team of brilliant editors and directors spent five months making meaning out of the material and fashioning eight episodes that retain a sense of range, amazing juxtaposition and randomness, while also being loosely themed so that the programmes always feel more than the sum of their parts.

I hope that the series makes you ask questions and look at the NHS in a different way and also a look at ourselves - we'll all rub up against this institution in some way during our lives.

Magnus Temple is an executive producer of Keeping Britain Alive: The NHS In A Day.

Keeping Britain Alive: The NHS In A Day continues on Tuesdays at 9pm on BBC Two and BBC Two HD. For further programme times please see the episode guide.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    This is what the BBC does best - great series...

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    Comment number 2.

    Wonderful, compassionate and stunning. Thank you for this programme and the reminder - which the country seems to need - that the NHS is worth fighting for.

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    Comment number 3.

    I've been a nurse since 1961 and still work part time. This programme is a brilliant showing of what the NHS does best and that is really CARE for people. It just shows that the horror stories we are always hearing about are definitely in the minority. The greater majority of ALL the people who work in the NHS are very hard working dedicated people who usually go above and beyond the call of duty. They regularly work overtime without pay because they want to finish the job in hand. I am proud to have been a very small part of the best National Health Service in the world. Let's not lose it because of a few bad stories. They are not the norm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    I'm really enjoying this series and, as Sue Miller says, it is a timely reminder of how much the NHS is worth fighting for. I've had personal reasons to be thankful for this wonderful healthcare system we have, and am so proud that such excellent care is available to all, regardless of economic circumstance. Well done BBC for showing the breadth of the service and the diversity of cases treated.

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 6.

    I am so impressed by this documentary.The hard work and dedication of the medical staff is incredible and the strength shown by patients in even the most difficult of situations is humbling and inspiring.What a valuable service the NHS provides us with.Thank you so much for making this.

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    Comment number 7.

    Thank you for this inspiring, amazing and most moving series. I appeal to everyone I know to watch this programme which portrays the awesome work that all these wonderful people perform!

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I was very puzzled by the background music during brain surgery because to begin with, I thought it was music they were playing in theatre, and wondered why you didn't interview the surgeon later for his comments rather than record what he said over the music but then realised you'd added the music. Plink plink notes both spoiling the poignant atmosphere in theatre and also making it well-nigh impossible to make out either the tones the surgeons were playing to test brain reactions or what people were saying, just at a point when the white subtitles were against pale backgrounds. This is why I watch so very little BBC programming and usually stick to other channels that are more sensitive. Such a shame.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.


    there is fear that the ageing population and cuts will diminish the value of our coveted NHS and have disastrous consequences

    Increasing revenue into the NHS is easy but how do you communicate with a giant.

    There is so much I could bring for free to help enhance the NHS but I don't expect anyone will listen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Whilst i appreciate what a fantastic programme you have made the series has never once shown a vital part of the NHS and a job that i do in The Sterile Service Department (CSSD ) ,
    Every operation and most procedures rely on clean ,sterile instruments but despite you showing vital operations on your series never once have you mentioned the care and the hard work that goes in to the Sterilisation Process in every NHS and private Hospital .
    Look into it please ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    We have found this series gripping and it has provoked so many emotions. We have watched in wonder as this machine we call the NHS tries to carry out the almost impossible task of being all things to all men. The programme has reminded us how lucky we are to have such a service at the point of need.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    A thoroughly spellbinding look at this amazing service. I too was nursed back from heart failure, stroke & coma & could never fault the care I was given. It opened my eyes about the true cost of these services and I dont know what we would do without this wonderful institution? Maybe those people who constantly complain about it should ask themselves the same question? PLEASE MAKE MORE LIKE THIS??!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    A really wonderful series, and an institution I will be proud to work in one day as a doctor. I hope it can be sensitively and sustainably managed and the ethos of care maintained. Thank you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    This has been a brilliant series. I had been a nurse for 30 years and retired following treatment for breast cancer, two years ago. I really believe this should have been compulsory viewing....I hope those that have watched appreciate now how complex and wonderful,(despite some of it's shortfalls) our NHS is....something worth fighting for. I was proud to be part of it and when I needed delivered in full! Thank you for a powerful,sensitive and informative series.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Watched the 2 episodes last night, absolutely brilliant. I was so impressed by the brian surgeon at Alder Hey Hospital, what an inspiration he was to everybody.

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    Comment number 16.

    This was an excellent documentary. However I reacted to the time wasters. It is very common that people make appointments which they do not keep, cases where ambulances are called out in a non emergency or people going to A&E for non emergency. There should be a nominal fee for example £10 to see a GP and £30 to see a specialist. Of course oaps and people on benefit should be excluded unless they miss the appointment. The 111 number was a very good idea there has been an equivalent in Sweden 117 where you get advice and appointments to a weekend or night surgery instead of A&E for non life threatening cases.

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    Comment number 17.


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    Comment number 18.

    I have watched this programme from the start and have found it very informative and am impressed by the quality of the information supplied and filming. I work within an NHS hospital and have frequently said that the general public need more detail of the amount of work that is carried out on a daily basis. This programmed does this. Well done to all involved and thank you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    I missed the beginning of this series and I'm catching up with it - I hope that this is going out on BBC Worldwide (especially America) because there seems to be a perception that the NHS is rubbish. Far from it and what amazes me is that no other country has copied it.

    Also, 1,217 hours of footage from 100 cameras in one day is an extraordinary amount of work from your technical team. This series should win an award.


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