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Proper Gander: Bed Pan Humour

Proper Gander

There are easier places to work than in a hospital, juggling bed pans with NHS bureaucracy. One way of coping is by having a gallows sense of humour to relieve the pressures with a droll remark or two. This side of life on a ward is rarely seen in earnest doctor-dramas like Holby City or Casualty. Instead, switch over to the comedy Getting On (BBC4) for a more realistic look inside our healthcare system.

Filmed in shakycam mocumentary style, the show follows the staff working on a geriatric ward. The three main characters are played by the programme’s writers, including Jo Brand, drawing on her early career as a nurse. For her character, Kim, a spoonful of wit helps the medicine go down. She wearily struggles with the stifling policies, procedures and market forces of the modern NHS.

One of Getting On’s strengths is in showing how corporate culture and its language alienate people from each other. The more a character hides behind office-speak, the less empathetic they are with the patients. Matron Damaris talks about ‘enhancing care pathways’ and ‘pushing the envelope of care a bit further’, but sounds more like a robot than someone who genuinely wants to help. Elsewhere, the trendy jargon hints at the economic strains on hospitals. Phrases like ‘maximising effectiveness’ and ‘streamlining’ are really just euphemisms for staff cuts and trimmed resources. ‘Compliance procedures’, ‘procurement solutions’ and sitting ‘on the same step of the strategic stairway’ are more important than the wellbeing of the patients.

The programme’s scalpel-sharp satire is brought to life by thoughtful, convincing performances. Particularly watchable are Vicki Pepperdine’s Dr Moore, flustered by her divorce and research into ‘undercarriages’, and Helen Griffin’s officious union rep. Anyone wanting to diagnose the problems in the NHS could do worse than checking the symptoms shown in Getting On.