Advising Holby City on getting it right

Nurse Rachel Carter: "I am here to make things look like it is a real hospital."

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Rachel Carter is used to being in hospital scrubs and in operating theatres. As a recovery nurse at Barnet Hospital, Hertfordshire, she looks after patients coming round from surgery.

But while she may be in uniform and surrounded by medical equipment, no-one is being treated here.

Rachel is on the set of Holby City, where she has worked as a nursing adviser for eight years.

She ensures the BBC medical drama, which follows the lives of surgeons, nurses and patients at the fictional NHS Holby General Hospital in the south-west of England, looks like a real hospital.

True to life

"It needs to be believable," says Rachel. "People shouldn't be distracted by something that doesn't look quite right."

She added: "A lot of people watch Holby and it is important to get things accurate, just in case they copy what they have seen on television in the real world, like CPR."

Rachel is one of three nursing advisers on Holby. She works eight months of the year on set, and the rest of the time is spent nursing.

Amanda Mealing

Start Quote

Having worked for six years on the programme, I think I could probably do an actual operation”

End Quote Amanda Mealing Plays Connie in Holby City

"I enjoy both, no preferences," she says. "Spending time on one job and then going on to the next revitalises me."

The series, which reached its 500th episode in April, needs to keep up to date with medical changes. Rachel's constant immersion in current medical practice helps the production keep across new thinking.

Keeping an eye out

On a quick look around the set a few minutes before filming she points out the X-rays: "These tend to be read on computer screens now, not on wall boxes. When I am organising the props I get both versions in, so the director can choose what to go with."

Gathering props, advice on procedures and recommending whose role it is to do what are the things Rachel keeps an eye on.

Occasionally she also acts as a scrub nurse. During a theatre scene Rachel is joined by Amanda Mealing, who plays surgeon Connie Beauchamp. They are performing a laser operation to remove a lung tumour.

A cardio-thoracic surgeon is also on hand to give advice on how to perform the technique, which hasn't been shown on Holby before.

Amanda Mealing and Rachel Carter in rehearsal

Rachel acts out her real-life role in a theatre scene

He is not the only surgeon advising Holby. The drama has a large team from different disciplines who read through the scripts before filming to check accuracy.

Raises expectations

Amanda Mealing also talks about the need to be believable: "We pride ourselves on being realistic. You need to know what you are doing and why. It is a complex and foreign thing to act out an operation. For training, I watched a number of real ones. Now, having worked for six years on the programme I think I could probably do an actual operation."

Despite the programmes efforts, it does occasionally get complaints. Earlier this year at the Royal College of Nursing conference, nurses argued that TV shows like Holby City gave unrealistic expectations to patients, with many expecting miracles.

Amanda says: "It is a drama set in a hospital, it is not a documentary. For slight things we use artistic licence, otherwise an operation would take the whole show or scrubbing up would take a long time. We ask the audience to enjoy the drama."

Holby City airs on Tuesdays at 2000 on BBC One.

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