A great deal of time and effort these days goes into making TV medical dramas both authentic and technically accurate. But it would appear that an unlooked for bonus of such detail is that these dramas – whilst being mainly entertainment vehicles- unintentionally improve health awareness in the watching public. They do so by providing accurate health information and can cause individuals to take action in regard to their own health or that of their family. In other words, take action to achieve “wellness”. These dramas can thus aid the current shift of focus of governments and public health practitioners to deliver Health & Wellness, aka Health & Wellbeing, (a National Wellness service rather than a National Health service?)
This shift to Wellness i.e. staying healthy, is in response to the rise of chronic diseases and inequity. The aim is to empower the individual to make healthy choices and to address the social, environmental and economic factors which limit that choice. Health awareness is therefore a prerequisite for wellness.
Call the Midwife, the hit medical TV drama, works hard to depict accuracy and authenticity
An essay in April's Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine describes the steps taken by the writers, production team and actors of the hit BBC TV series, Call the Midwife, to ensure the series has sufficient medical accuracy and authenticity [the series is set in the poor Poplar district of East London during the early years of the National Health Service (1950s)]. The series is viewed by more than 10 million people each week, and sold to almost 200 territories worldwide.
The author of the essay is the actor Stephen McGann who plays the local community docter [GP], Dr Patrick Turner.
As one would expect, a clinical advisor [a practising midwife and lecturer] oversees childbirth and nursing procedures but this series has gone further. Open-access journals and the Wellcome Trust archive are used as resources by the writer, and relevant health charities are called upon to provide an insight into the health impact of social conditions of the time. McGann himself deliberately chose to make his character a smoker “after reading a BMJ study* [by Richard Doll: Mortality in relation to smoking’: 50 years' observation on male British doctors BMJ 328 (7455): 1519] which observed the effects of smoking on men over a 50-year period, starting in 1951. A total of 34,439 smokers took part in the research – all of them doctors.” [*The first publication based on this cohort was in 1954 and is in the Global Health Archive database: ‘The mortality of doctors in relation to their smoking habits ’. BMJ 328 (7455): 1529.]
But McGann then goes on to explain that the medical accuracy and authenticity pioneered by ‘Call the Midwife’ has communicated valuable insights to ordinary people into important public health issues …giving them the information to improve their own health.