If they put viewing galleries in accident and emergency wards, would you have to queue for tickets? You'd think so, given the current ubiquity of medical dramas and medical documentaries. Two new series started last night: Junior Doctors: Your Life in Their Hands on BBC3 and Confessions of a Nurse on More4, both of them more than happy to feed the apparently insatiable clinical prurience of the audience. And of course viewing galleries in A&E wouldn't work because then you'd have to watch all the dull stuff too. What we want are the highlights or – this being hospital television – other people's lowlights. As the introduction to Junior Doctors put it, cutting straight to the main attraction: "Emergencies, bad behaviour, bedside battles and buckets of blood." Roll up, roll up for the Carnival of Carnal Frailty!
We began with what nurses call Black Wednesday, the day that newly qualified doctors arrive for their very first shift, jittery as hell about their ability to apply theoretical knowledge to real patients. Take Andy, for example, who approached one early task with a distinctly unnerving diffidence. "I'm going to have a go at fitting a cannula, if that's all right," he said to a Mr Straw, who obligingly thought it would be. Four goes later, Andy was still trying: "Again, I think it was close but I missed," he said reassuringly. Amieth, meanwhile, was starting his day by giving a patient a prostate exam, while Milla – who comes across as if she narrowly missed out on the casting call for Made in Chelsea – had to certify her first ever death. After taking a half-hour break to compose himself, Andy went back to have another stab at Mr Straw, who this time sensibly limited him to two goes only. Aki fared a little better when putting a chest drain into a patient but perhaps might have skipped the quavering confession that it was his first time and he'd only been on the job two days.
The three women in Confessions of a Nurse were all wearily familiar with life on the ward, which is not to say that they were unhappy in their work (all three said how much they enjoyed it), only that they were no longer surprised by what each day might throw at them. Human faeces, for example, which at one point came flying out of a side-ward from the bed of a patient who turned out to be a convicted sex offender. He'd already endeared himself to the staff by repeatedly exposing himself to visitors, calling his nurses slags and punching those who had the impudence to actually get close enough to tend to his needs. Understandably, this did get to Debbie just a little, but for the most part life on the ward seems to involve a dulling of the normal reflexes of repugnance. Latoya, an absolutely charming health care assistant, donned mask, gloves and eye-protection to enter a segregated ward, where the patient explained that after his admission for a perianal abscess it was discovered that he was also infected with MRSA and had TB. "Oh my God... it's not your week, is it?" said Latoya cheerfully, as if he'd just moaned about missing a bus.
Both programmes contained virtually identical scenes in which medical staff tried to reverse a cardiac arrest, a composition glimpsed through parted screens and a cluster of medical personnel. And that's the secret of these things, of course – the gripping proximity of routine and the once-in-a-lifetime moment we've all got coming to us eventually. Confessions of a Nurse has one intriguing technical edge on Junior Doctors, in that it sometimes lets its subjects add a muttered DVD commentary over footage of themselves at moments of high tension, a device that last night allowed Sarah's bedside sojourn with a dying old lady to have a real tug of pathos and rueful comedy. Not really a mystery that they keep making them.