BBC to screen goriest medical drama yet

The BBC is to screen one of the goriest dramas ever with a blood-soaked, This Life-style series about bungling gynaecologists trying to cover up their mistakes.

In one of the most gruesome scenes, a baby is seen being forced back into its mother during birth following complications, before being delivered moments later by Caesarean section. The realistic images are part of a six-part medical series entitled Bodies, which its creator says is unashamedly graphic and is designed to "push the boundaries".

The edgy series, which begins later this month, follows a growing trend for gross-out TV by screening intimate details of surgery. Last week, Five aired a live Caesarean operation, and numerous documentaries have featured plastic surgery and "extreme makeovers". It is a world away from the days when the most stomach-churning aspect of medical dramas was the hospital menu.

Bodies - which looks at the lives and loves of the high-pressure world of surgery - will be screened first by BBC3, with BBC2 airing the series in the autumn.

It stars Max Beesley, best known for his title role in the BBC1 period romp Tom Jones, as a dashing doctor working for a consultant who makes a series of mistakes that endanger and even kill his patients. In the first episode, a woman is needlessly sterilised because of a mix-up with patient names, and another is left in a coma while her child dies during the delivery.

Viewers will be warned about the content of the programme beforehand and a helpline number will be given out after each edition.

Writer Jed Mercurio based the series on his novel Bodies, changing the original setting from general medicine to gynaecology. "I was thinking about the most dramatic and visual and straightforward kind of medicine, and I hit on the idea of childbirth," said Mercurio, a former doctor who was also behind the hard-hitting Cardiac Arrest.

"As well as it being something that hasn't been done before, the layman understands the concepts - the baby has to come out, it has to be healthy and the mum has to be healthy. I wanted it to be graphic. There's so much medical drama out there and we really felt that it's got to push the boundaries."

Mercurio said that he was interested in how people dealt with their mistakes, although the series was not based on any particular example of gynaecological error.

"My motivation was finding another dramatic form but when I got into it, it did remind me that there have been a couple of prominent cases, with Rodney Ledwood and Richard Neale. It taps into something dark when you think of a gynaecologist not being up to scratch. There's something very frightening about the vulnerability of mothers and babies."

Both Ledwood and Neale ended up being struck off because of botched surgery.

BBC3's controller, Stuart Murphy, said the realism was important but that the graphic portrayal was not simply for shock value. "I think hospital dramas are becoming increasingly real and gritty. It's not sensationalist. I didn't commission Bodies to shock - there are cheaper ways to do that."

BBC3 is also to screen a mastectomy operation later this year as part of a season of programmes about cancer.