From Casualty to Holby City, Scrubs, Call The Midwife and ER, what IS the most realistic TV medical series? We asked the experts…

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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  • Doctors admit many TV dramas bare no resemblance to a day working for NHS
  • Some medics say being a healthcare professional ‘ruins’ medical themed dramas

Whether it’s Casualty, Holby City or Grey’s Anatomy, fast-paced hospital dramas have us on the edge of our seats.

But are they accurate, or should they be taken with a large pinch of salt? 

We asked the experts which of your favourite medical TV series is the most accurate – and averaged their scores to give a rank out of 10… 

Call The Midwife (7/10)

Groans of women in travail have helped make Call The Midwife one of TV’s most popular dramas.

Based on the fascinating real-life memoirs of Jennifer Worth, a domiciliary midwife in London’s Docklands in the 50s, the BBC favourite has featured the likes of Miriam Margolyes and Cliff Parisi over its 13-series span.

Call the Midwife which screened 12 series, is based on the real-life memoir of Jennifer Worth, who worked as a domiciliary midwife in London’s Docklands in the 1950s

Although the BBC’s Sunday night staple blurs the line between fact and fiction, the show is historically accurate, experts say. 

Nurses say the episodes captured the ‘realness of childbirth’ as well as how tough it is to be a midwife. 

Amanda Azzopardi, an advanced nurse practitioner, said: ‘With scenes created for drama purposes, it was really able to capture the true experience of the realness of childbirth and the intensity of the role of being a midwife.

Fellow London-based nurse Emily West said: ‘This program beautifully demonstrates how far we have come in nursing and midwifery over the years. 

‘It puts patients at the heart of it, as it should. 

‘I am sure there is a variation of inaccuracies — but it still is a true love letter to the midwifery profession.’

Because the drama is set 70 years ago, a lot has changed across the medical scene when it comes to today’s medical practices. 

Kian Carvell, specialist assessor at EA Mobility, a firm supporting disabled people in their home, said that the equipment and facilities therefore is ‘unrealistic to today’s medical environment’.

Last year, Call The Midwife was criticised for not depicting labour accurately.

Scenes of midwives and doctors clamping the umbilical cord were either inaccurate or dramatised as unimportant a third of the time, according to research by a team at King’s College London and the University of Liverpool, who analysed 87 births shown in 48 episodes of three UK popular fictional and reality TV programmes.

Angling in on Call The Midwife, the experts concluded that the line between fact and fiction is ‘blurred’, warning that the show risks misinforming prospective parents and professionals.

The BBC at the time said: ‘It’s highly accurate to the period it depicts, and shows how childbirth has changed radically over the years.’

Scrubs (8/10)

Scrubs is, according to medics we asked, one of the most accurate and relatable TV shows when it comes to depicting life inside a hospital.  

The nine series sitcom ran from 2001 to 2010 and tells the story of a group of young doctors, including Dave Franco as Cole Aaronson, in a teaching hospital in Greater Sacramento, California, as they work their way up the ranks.

London-based GP Dr Hana Patel says the show is fairly realistic, accurately honing in on both the ‘funny aspects of medicine’ and the daily life of working in a hospital.

Ms Azzopardi, of Amanda Azzopardi Aesthetics, agrees that although it is a comedy, Scrubs still is a ‘realistic portrayal of the day life of doctors who are in training’. 

Bill Lawrence, Scrubs’ creator who helped propel Ted Lasso to international acclaim, worked with medical advisors including his LA-based cardiologist friend to ensure scenarios in the show were accurate. 

This is Going to Hurt  (7/10)

Set on a labour ward, the 2022 drama aired on the BBC shows the highs and lows of working as a midwife for the NHS.

As well as capturing the heartbreaking suicide of Shruti, played by Ambika Mod, that left viewers in tears, it showed the stark difference between NHS and private hospitals. 

The one-off, seven-episode series, an adaptation of former junior doctor Adam Kay’s diaries from working in the NHS, is an ‘honest’ account, according to Dr Patel.

It portrays the ‘raw emotions and struggles with everyday life in medical training’, Ms Azzopardi adds. She also believes the show is somewhat accurate. 

For Ms West, of the CREO CLINIC, the drama is ‘a heartfelt breakup letter to being a junior doctor in a modern day NHS’.

She said: ‘The nurse in me wants to give Adam Kay a warm reassuring smile at the beginning of a shift, with the promise of a luke warm tea and stashed away biscuits after ward round, in the hope that he will indeed do his best to make it as painless as possible for everyone’s sake. 

‘As many healthcare staff would say, the struggle is real, and this series makes a medical professional feel seen. 

‘From staff dynamics and depictions of emotional burdens, endless tasks, multiplying responsibilities, lack of time and time off.’

However, the drama was slammed by mothers, midwives and pregnancy campaign groups for depicting birth as ‘traumatic’ and women as ‘weak and disempowered.’ 

The show also came under fire for portraying Ben Wishaw’s character Adam as the ‘hero’ while showcasing the women giving birth as ‘misguided fools who think they can have a say in birth’. 

In one scene in the first episode, Adam indicates to a woman that he will perform a C-section by simply gesturing a cutting movement. In another, he makes it seem as though a potentially dangerous delivery complication – a umbilical cord prolapse – is commonplace.

Holby City, which shows the daily lives of doctors and patients on the frenetic cardiac unit of Holby City General Hospital, contains more drama than medical accuracy, experts say

Holby City, which shows the daily lives of doctors and patients on the frenetic cardiac unit of Holby City General Hospital, contains more drama than medical accuracy, experts say

Holby City (7/10)

BBC’s British drama, portraying the daily lives of doctors and patients on the frenetic cardiac unit of the fictional Holby City General Hospital, contains more drama than medical accuracy, some experts say. 

Based purely on fiction for drama purposes, Ms Azzopardi says the decommissioned TV series ‘lacks realism’.  

Dr Patel also criticises the drama, which ran between 1999 and 2022 on prime-time TV, for not being similar to ‘real life’ working in the NHS. 

She said: ‘It is an unreal portrayal of issues NHS workers actually face. There may be dramas but not so many in one episode or shift. 

‘Also dramas have the extremes of cases and social and psychological issues that we see as doctors, and not the day to day stuff.’

Mr Carvell agrees that the show, which over the years featured the likes of One Day’s Leo Woodall and Killing Eve’s Jodie Comer, is not the most realistic, although very entertaining. 

He added: ‘It focus more on dramatic effect than the realities of healthcare. 

‘We do get to see a variety of patients treated and viewers might learn more about conditions they’ve never heard of, but the personal lives of staff often get more focus, which is understandable, as it is a drama.’

In 2013, the show was accused of risking lives with a ‘reckless’ portrayal of organ donation and prompting potential life savers to come off the donor list.

The particular episode which drew flak was centered on a teenage girl who needed a heart transplant. 

NHS Blood and Transplant, which is responsible for organ donation, said it was full of inaccuracies and said the ‘bodies of recently dead were portrayed as commodities’.

It said people had contacted them asking to be removed from the organ donor register.  

Casualty is a long-running BBC medical drama depicts the working and private lives of medics in A&E. Although it's plot is thrilling, medics say some medical scenes such as medication prescribing are not that realistic

Casualty is a long-running BBC medical drama depicts the working and private lives of medics in A&E. Although it’s plot is thrilling, medics say some medical scenes such as medication prescribing are not that realistic

Casualty (6/10)

The even longer-running BBC medical drama, that has starred Martin Freeman and Kate Winslet, similarly depicts the working and private lives of medics in A&E. 

First aired in 1986, its plot is undeniably thrilling.

Yet medics say some scenes, such as ones involving the prescribing of drugs, are not that realistic. 

Both Dr Patel and Ms Azzopardi critique the Saturday night show’s unrealistic medical scenes, despite being gripped on the drama. 

However, Ms West claims she had to stop watching the programme altogether when she became a nurse. 

‘It went from easy mindless viewing to eye rolling and toe curling in a matter of months of mere months,’ she said. 

‘Between the eyebrow raising medication prescribing, odd decision making and the most confusing decisions made by the staffing and recruitment department; it’s safe to say I would not be a reassure patient in their care,’ she said. 

Mr Carvell said it ‘prioritises story over accuracy’ and is very ‘dramatic’ in its portrayal of medical emergencies. 

However, he credits it for depicting the ‘hectic nature of emergency departments’.

The TV show was slapped with a ‘racist’ language warning in 2021 by streaming service Britbox. The warning seen on some episodes says: ‘Contains emotional scenes and racist language and attitudes which may offend some viewers.’

Doctors (5/10)

Set in the fictional West Midlands town of Letherbridge, the soap follows the lives of NHS doctors.  

But the long-running drama starring Ian Midlane, Sarah Moyle and Ian Kelsey, which first aired in 2000, is mostly just drama and not an accurate reflection of being a GP, the experts say.  

Dr Patel, who still works in the NHS but offers private appointments too, said: ‘I used to watch this on my lunchbreak when I had one, and it had good stories, but again too much drama and not very realistic.’ 

Ms Azzopardi also says its just a ‘drama TV show’ and ‘not very realistic’.  

‘Doctors attempts to depict the day-to-day operations of a GP practice, but like many soaps, it can sometimes feel dramatic, affecting its realism,’ said Mr Carvell. 

But he credits the ‘variety of cases’ shown, including the healthcare experiences of disabled people. 

One episode in series 23 lives up to the shows dramatic reputation. 

It sees receptionist Karen, played by Jan Pearson, working late and left her husband, Rob, played by Chris Walker, in the lobby when a five-year-old girl calls and says her mummy won’t wake up. But her address is unknown and Rob, who is an off-duty police officer, tried to work out where she is to get her help. 

The 'real' Doc Martin Port Isaac GP Dean Marshall says that Martin Clunes’ (pictured) temperamental medic would never pass muster in the real NHS

The ‘real’ Doc Martin Port Isaac GP Dean Marshall says that Martin Clunes’ (pictured) temperamental medic would never pass muster in the real NHS

Doc Martin (6/10)

The ITV series starring Martin Clune as a grumpy GP with a phobia of blood in a picturesque seaside village in Cornwall has been criticised for ‘simplifying complex conditions’. 

Although Ms Azzopardi says the countryside drama is ‘not very realistic’, Mr Carvell disagrees.

He said: ‘Doc Martin interestingly portrays medical care in a rural setting, which is a significant concern for disabled people living outside of cities. 

‘The show does well to represent the close-knit community and the personalised care approach, aspects crucial for people with disabilities, though it occasionally simplifies complex conditions.’

However, the ‘real’ Doc Martin GP Dean Marshall, who works as a doctor in Cornwall’s Port Isaac where the show is filmed, says Martin Clunes’ temperamental medic would never pass muster in the real NHS.

Dr Marshall told the Mail on Sunday in 2022: ‘The plot has acknowledged Doc Martin’s failings. In one episode he is told he might have to go on a course to improve his people skills. 

‘That happens in real life. I investigate complaints against doctors for the General Medical Council and they sometimes get sent on communications courses to address their relationship with patients.’

However, he says unlike the TV show patients can’t just get a walk in appointment. 

ER (9/10)

Based on the doctors working in the emergency department of the fictional County General Hospital in Chicago, ER shows the ups and downs of their medical careers and love lives. 

Starring George Clooney and Thandiwe Newton, the long-running series captures the rocky romance between doctors Luka Kovac and Abbey Lockhart, as well as the blossoming relationship of Ray Barnett and Neela Rasgotra. 

But aside to the romances, medics do think ER, which ran between 1994 and 2009, is fairly accurate. That is in comparison to other dramas, at least.   

‘When in nursing school, I recall being told that ER was the more accurate of the current lot,’ said Ms West. 

But it’s not just the accuracy of the show that captured Ms West’s heart. 

She confesses the ‘show has aged as beautifully as George Clooney’. 

Ms Azzopardi admits that she hasn’t watch the show since it first aired in 1994, but when she did watch it she ‘thought it was great.’

Dr Patel says although it is a good show with lots of drama showing the ‘extreme’ side to medicine, it’s a really ‘unrealistic portrayal of how people look’. 

She added: ‘I wish my hospital boyfriend looked like George Clooney!’

It’s inaccuracies have even been picked up by medical students.

Dr Peter G. Brindley, associate professor of critical care medicine at the University of Alberta, told The New York Times in 2009 that many of his medical students started to position their patients’ heads incorrectly to insert breathing tubes, which he believed is something they had learnt after watching shows like ER. 

Greys Anatomy focuses on the lives of surgical interns and  sensationalises the profession. But all this drama is at the cost of medical inaccuracies, including doctors shown wearing jewelry during surgery, experts say

Greys Anatomy focuses on the lives of surgical interns and  sensationalises the profession. But all this drama is at the cost of medical inaccuracies, including doctors shown wearing jewelry during surgery, experts say

Grey’s Anatomy (6/10)

Focusing on the lives of surgical interns, the American medical drama Grey’s Anatomy, starring Sandra Oh and Patrick Dempsey, sensationalises the profession.

But all this drama is at the cost of medical inaccuracies, including doctors shown wearing jewellery during surgery. 

The NHS advises staff to not wear nail products, rings, earrings other than studs and necklaces. Jewellery and watches can harbour microorganisms, it states in its uniforms and workwear guidance. 

Ms West admits that the medical drama will always ‘hold a fond place’ in her heart, but ‘probably for all the wrong reasons’. 

‘If you fancy having you heart shredded in by a medical professional then Grey’s Anatomy is probably your safest and more financially sound option,’ she added.

Highlighting some of the inaccuracies Ms West said; ‘If you are a patient at Grey Sloane Memorial, there is a 50 per cent risk you could be left to die on the operating table due to your surgeons being too busy, or having a heated argument in the staff room, or loosing their scrubs with another person in the nearest supply closet, or even battling their alcohol addiction.’ 

However, Ms West says she can forgive the show’s inaccuracies but only because of its ‘addictive and well-written characters’. 

A 2018 US study by a team of trauma surgeons, who analysed 269 episodes of the show, concluded that it sets up unrealistic expectations for patients.

They then compared those stories with real life injuries sustained by 4,812 patients.

The death rate was three times higher in Grey’s Anatomy than in real life (22 per cent versus seven per cent). Most (71 per cent) of the TV patients went straight from emergency care to the operating theater, compared to 25 per cent of the databank patients.

On the show, only six per cent of survivors were transferred to a long term care facility, as opposed to 22 per cent of real-life patients.

Half of fictional patients spent less than a week in hospital from a serious injury, whereas 80 per cent of real-life patients spend much longer in care.

Green Wing  (10/10)

The British sitcom, written by the comedy team behind ‘Smack the Pony’, focuses on the story lines of everyone from a staff liaison officer to the doctors and consultants. 

Although very surreal, Dr Patel insists it’s an accurate depiction of life working in a hospital.  

‘This is the most truest related to NHS doctor working, so funny and I love it,’ admits Dr Patel.

‘I honestly think a doctor wrote this as it is so similar to my real life experience of working in the hospital in the NHS at a DGH,’ she added. 

But this is not for its medical accuracies, instead the bizarre comedy gets is high rating for how well it depicts non-clinical aspects of hospital life.

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