Last Night's Television - True Stories: Afghan Star, more4; The Hospital, Channel 4

Desperate measures
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The Independent Culture

I don't know how Danielle's night had started, but it ended really badly, with Danielle underneath a taxi, her shattered legs bent back over her shoulder and the exhaust pipe branding a long tubular burn on to her thigh. And if she had hoped that things would begin to look up when she reached A&E then she was wrong. Harassed and overstretched by the drunken casualties staggering through their doors, someone in the medical team gave Danielle 10 times as much ketamine as was intended. While the casualty doctor was standing in the foreground giving a little commentary on her case, she went into cardiac arrest, setting off a medically inflected rugby scrum that, after a lot of adrenalin and another heart seizure, eventually brought her back to life. Danielle was 19 years old and has two daughters of her own but having died twice didn't seem to have put much of a dent in her party-hard attitude. "Do you think you paid a big price for a night out?" asked an off-camera voice as she prepared to leave hospital a month later. "No," replied Danielle grinning. "I only spent £20. Twenty pounds and a free taxi."

You would normally be inclined to categorise such a remark as British pluck, but, half-way through The Hospital, Channel 4's study in medical disenchantment, it was hard not to wonder whether it was simply flippancy, an indifference to consequences (and social costs) that meant her remark could be filed alongside the insouciance of the drunk driver who was filmed in a waiting room while the friend he'd helped hospitalise lay in a coma next door. "Just went for a couple of beers with friends... and then another.. and then another... Good night," he said calmly. He seemed proud rather than ashamed that he'd managed to reach 100mph before leaving the road. And the question The Hospital posed was not so much whether his friends were likely to survive such fecklessness, but whether the NHS could.

Naomi Cuthbert – the battle-scarred A&E consultant who helped tie Monica Garnsey's film together – didn't seem to think so. "If you took alcohol out of the equation, 50 per cent of our staff wouldn't be necessary," she said. A&E, she suggested, had become a "bucket and mop", clearing up the mess left by a "sub-set of society that is completely dysfunctional." I'm glad to say that Naomi chuckled when making the "bucket and mop" remark, evidence that a little flame of resilience still burned in her, because in her other pieces to camera she looked as if it wouldn't be long before she would be adding to the waiting list in psychiatric outpatients. "Reality is," she said, staring blankly at the camera as if daring the viewer to contradict her, "some patients are more deserving of compassion than others... Some people visit tragedy upon themselves and some people have it visited upon them." The only trouble is that the difference between these two categories becomes entirely academic when they're gravely ill. The film ended with a moving account of a young man who'd been brought in unconscious and critically ill, and who in the end never came round. It was impossible to know whether his behaviour had contributed to his injury, because he was in a coma and the film didn't tell you, but either way he was loved by his family, who were presumably devastated by his death. Even if the NHS was collapsing under the weight of the irresponsible and the inadequate it would hardly be the NHS anymore if it simply shrugged them off.

If The Hospital left you with a hankering for a more censorious and even punitive society, Afghan Star reminded you how ugly such a society can get, in a fascinating film about the Afghani version of Pop Idol, a series that carried a somewhat larger freight of social expectation than it ever does here. Among other things the producers and participants hoped that it could break down tribal divisions in Afghanistan, cement a sense of national unity and even introduce the country's citizens to the idea of democratic participation and electoral campaigning. Around a third of the country's population watched the final of Afghan Star – an astonishing figure given how few televisions there are – but not everyone approves. Setara, one of the women contestants, did a modest dance as she sang her final song and briefly uncovered her hair. "I know she did this because of her emotions, but it will not have a good end," said one of her fellow contestants darkly, clearly shocked despite the fact that he was a cheerleader for modernity. Out in the street, a member of the viewing public was a bit blunter: "She brought shame to the Herati people, she deserves to be killed," he said, a sentiment that was greeted as no more than a statement of the obvious by the men crowded around him. "I'm an open-minded person, so I'm looking for a guy who is also an open-minded person," Setara had said earlier. I fear she'll have quite a wait.

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