Casualty: a suitable case for treatment?

Thomas Sutcliffe
Wednesday 30 March 1994 23:02

'The most sick being treated by the most thick' was the mordant description of the average casualty ward offered by one doctor in QED (BBC 1). But Staffordshire Royal Infirmary doesn't have an average casualty ward. In their trauma unit they have a consultant on hand 24 hours a day - a departure from medical protocol, which requires that at least three consultants be in constant attendance at the nearest golf course. The idea that the most experienced doctors should treat the most urgent cases is only an experiment, though. The money runs out in a year's time and, this being an indubitable improvement in the care offered by the NHS, it seems unlikely that Mrs Bottomley will do anything to preserve it. It may not be long before mangled casualties are again being welcomed by a sleepy houseman who needs a map to find a pulse point.

Jeremy Llewellyn-Jones's film followed one consultant through a busy shift - pretty much routine for doctors but a crash course in human fecklessness for the viewer. Somebody observed at one point that almost half of those brought in after emergency calls - blue lights flashing, resuscitation team on stand-by - needed no treatment at all, not even aspirin or an Elastoplast. They were, we were told, 'given simple advice and sent home'. My own simple advice to someone who wasted valuable resources like this would be to use a pineapple as a suppository but these people appeared to be made of sterner stuff. When their patients lash out, as many of the drunks do, they don't respond with a swift uppercut, just exasperated, professional care.

Any notion of 'just deserts' would be a liability in this strange world of continual crisis. A woman with a bleeding hand explained that she had been trying to hang a picture. What were you using?, asked the nurse. A Stanley knife, the woman replied.

Later in the film, word arrived that three victims of a head-on collision were on their way. The medical staff waited for them to arrive, as edgy as actors before curtain-up, checking their props and their costumes. Two were policeman suffering from whiplash - the third was the incorrigible 16-year-old who'd driven a stolen car straight at them and who had discovered the hard way that life isn't a

video game.

He was probably saved by the presence of the consultant, who had the experience to test for internal bleeding. It was rather admirable that none of these overworked people wondered why they bothered, at least not aloud, anyway.

'O Mary This London', last night's Screen Two (BBC 2) opened with a promising energy and economy of means. As the wake of a ferry unspooled beneath an Irish tricolour, a young man whooped with glee - just 20 seconds on screen had delivered a mood, the exuberance of getting away. Mary, accompanied by her boyfriend, Bimbo, and his mate, Mickey, were on their way to London - for an abortion, for work and for 'the crack'. There was plenty of the latter in Shane Connaughton's script ('a roide in a Jumbo Jet would have cost less,' yells Mickey indignantly when Mary reveals how much the abortion is going to cost). But what begins as comic misadventure soon darkens into drenched melodrama. What always happens to innocents abroad, happens.

The elements of this were undoubtedly true to life - the casual racism, the exploitation - but this combination of them had the capricious feel of a childhood experiment. Charity and good fortune were randomly delivered and then snatched away, as if the film-makers wanted to see whether they could make us cry. Towards the end it starts to rain, that familiar television monsoon which characters must sit in unheeding as a demonstration of their limitless misery. Unsurprisingly, the trench in which Bimbo is working collapses under the weight of water, allowing Jason Barry (very engaging when dry) to really have a wallow. 'Me only pal]' he howls, hugging the muddy corpse, 'Haven't oi suffered enough?' Don't blame God, Mickey, blame the writer.

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