Review: This Is Going To Hurt – Kay’s Series puts NHS Work Pressure Under the Knife
Adam Kay’s much anticipated adaptation pulls no punches on the mental health crisis in medicine.
If you’re a non-medic and want to learn what it’s like to be a junior doctor, TV can provide some insight. There’s the widely popular, highly dramatised Grey’s Anatomy, now in its eighteenth season, which juxtaposes workplace love affairs against increasingly preposterous medical emergencies. Closer to home, there’s the BBC documentary series Junior Doctors which follows the lives of a selection of fresh med-school grads living together in an Apprentice-style house. We see the highs and lows in their professional and personal lives, but a doctor is never too sad about failing to take a blood sample before they’re driving home in a Mercedes to unwind with a game of badminton and a dabble in the art of sabrage (slicing open a champagne bottle with a sabre). Radically reorienting this sugar-coated view of the NHS, is the BBC adaptation of Adam Kay’s best-selling diary, This Is Going to Hurt, which shares his experience as an obstetrician-gynaecologist in 2006, before he left medicine for good in 2010.
Instead of BBC’s earlier, squeaky-clean image of eager-beaver junior doctors, enthusiastically trained by attentive registrars and consultants, we meet Adam (Ben Whishaw) – cynical, sarcastic and fundamentally overworked. In fact, this description applies to the majority of the cast. The result, when combined with an absent, Tory consultant, an anxious ward sister and recent graduate (Sruthi, brilliantly played by newcomer Ambika Mod), whose superiors never have time to train her, is a toxic workplace: intensely critical, hierarchical and with absolutely zero mental health support. The message is clear and simple: medicine is brutal, often traumatising. It’s only going to get worse as your career progresses, so if you’re not cut-out for it, you might as well quit while you’re ahead. Sure, the show gives us glimpses of those rewarding moments of medicine – Adam holds the baby he delivered 15 weeks premature as he’s finally healthy enough to be discharged. But this pales in significance to the overall impact of work on Adam’s mental health which severely affects his relationship with his boyfriend. At one point his wellbeing is so low that he reaches Macbethian levels of paranoia, consumed by an anonymous complaint on his unprofessional conduct.
The merit of the programme is surely rooted in Kay’s flair for screenwriting. He successfully adapts a series of diary entries into multiple story-lines across five hours. Many of the much-needed comedic moments are directly lifted from the book, but the hard-hitting drama and insight into Adam’s personal life have been expertly fleshed out for the mini-series format. Just as in the book, Kay guides the viewer through the medical terminology by breaking the fourth-wall. He increasingly manipulates this liminality in a clear nod to fellow BBC hit Fleabag, which also adds further comic respite.
The soundtrack – with an original score by Jarvis Cocker – brilliantly encompasses the 2006 indie-pop zeitgeist, featuring Franz Ferdinand and The Maccabees – even if I can’t resist pointing out that Toothpaste Kisses was actually released a year later. This is particularly impressive when this awkward 16 year gap is too recent to be full-on nostalgia, yet too far away, especially technologically, to ignore the time difference. The mid-00s setting also provided much audience commentary on the relevance of Kay’s experience to NHS hospitals today. We know that healthcare funding and staffing is below Labour government levels, and the poor management of Covid means that waiting lists are at an all-time high, yet some NHS workers argue that internal regulations mean that much has thankfully improved since 2006, such as tighter requirements on consultants’ presence on the wards. And yet I can personally vouch that the critical and hierarchical working atmosphere hasn’t gone away. During a minor operation under local anaesthetic a few years ago, my surgeon was effectively booted off by a more experienced surgeon, left to look on while the new surgeon finished the operation.
This Is Going To Hurt is a far cry from the heart-warming stories of obs and gyno in One Born Every Minute. Although it’s very well-made, I wouldn’t recommend watching it if you’re not in a good mental space, as the systemically toxic workplace culture offers more despair than hope.
Image Credit: BBC