Holby City and the case of ‘dramatic licence’ leading to ‘minor deviation of accuracy’

Now although I might get a little indignant about the misconceptions of occupational therapy I can generally manage the ‘basket weaving’ and ‘fluffy bunny’ comments. What I’m not so fond of is cases where TV shows (especially medical ones) misrepresent our profession (hmm let’s think back to the OT who suddenly became a physio in Coronation Street – oh as well as having an affair with his client’s wife).

Now I don’t even watch Holby City but even I had to watch a recent episode when I saw the comments from OTs on social media. The episode shown on the 21st May had us all a little riled and a couple of us decided to complain.

Here is my comment to them:

The scene regarding the assessment of the lady Betty for Dementia was inaccurate in a number of ways.
Firstly the doctor said they would call Occupational health for a dementia screen (this should have been occupational therapy and was corrected to the later in the programme adding to confusion).
The suggestion was that all that can be done after screening is to arrange home help when there are a variety of interventions and strategies that can be employed. What a bleak, unhelpful view. Yes dementia is a cruel disease but there are ways to help people live with it.
The OT was in mid assessment and clearly hadn’t been, or properly introduced himself.
Not in right colour uniform – generally OTs wear bottle green trousers (this looked like a physiotherapy uniform).
He was sat a mile away from client on the chair – poor practice.
No privacy. You’d never do an MMSE with everyone watching on an open ward like that. It wouldn’t help get accurate results and would distress the client (as it did).

Well done for trying to demonstrate staff other than doctors and nurses but please encourage them to be accurate when doing so. Many occupational therapists I know expressed dismay with this scene and the mis-representation of our profession.

And here is their, in-my-view’ cop out response – do you think they addressed the issues I raised? Is this a case of a minor deviation from their “thorough” research for dramatic licence?

Thanks for your contact regarding ‘Holby City’ on 21 may.

I understand you had concerns with regards to the portrayal of occupational therapy which you felt misrepresented the profession.

Whilst we thoroughly research all our scripts and storylines, a certain amount of dramatic licence is occasionally used in order to keep the story moving forward. We appreciate that even the most minor deviation from accuracy can be irritating to some viewers, however with the number of characters in the show, and the amount of storylines running concurrently, we cannot always include the level of detail that some viewers would like us to.

I can assure you we appreciate your feedback and your complaint has been registered on our audience log. This log is made available to all members of the BBC, including the production team of ‘Holby City’ and senior BBC management. This ensures your comments and others we receive are considered across the BBC. Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

To me thorough research would have been at a minimum:

  • The OT wearing the correct uniform
  • To have been called by the correct name or at least have a comment made about why occupational health was used, e.g. ‘why can’t they ever get our name right?’ (sadly this isn’t exactly inaccurate but I’m not entirely convinced that Holby City would have used that level of irony!)

I can almost forgive the rest, after all it’s not like many of the characters appear to behave particularly professionally.

Did you complain? Did your letter say the same?

So, I’m after your advice guys, what do we do now? Just leave it or…?

Posted on June 4, 2013, in Occupational Therapy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Frustrating response. While I can understand them using ‘dramatic license’ with the positioning/nature of assessment the wrong title and uniform are simply factual inaccuracies that cannot possibly add anything to the storyline, but simply highlight poor research.

    As for my complaint, I have not yet had a response (other than the ‘we have received your complaint and this is our procedure for dealing with them…’). I will update you if/when I hear more.

  2. Really interesting post!!Things like this drive me mad,especially as it’s always the medical dramas that are worse for it!if youre compiling a medical drama,surely those kind of details are crucial?!You wouldn’t for example,not properly research a medical condition and have the doctor character making up what it is?!often ive caught casualty getting roles mixed and it’s always the PT who does the OT stuff!I think things like uniform wrong are especially basic things that youd think they would want to get right?!Having said that,

    • When I worked in acute, the rapid discharge team all wore the same uniform,whether PT or OT.XXX

      • That’s interesting. Was it just OT/PT or all staff. That probably does make it hard to distinguish between people, do you think it made for a lot of role blurring?

    • I think the fact that they are suggesting they are doing thorough research is what concerns me more, my guess is that they have asked their medical consultant but, as we know, purely presenting another profession based on what you see them doing probably isn’t the most helpful way to go. Thanks for commenting.

  3. This is sad if you have to review Holby City as a review. It does not even warant watching on TV it is so inaccurate, whats more it’s made in Bristol or at least was. Mind you I don’t think the American shows are much better.
    Passing through on my roadtrip.

    • It’s not really a review as such (will remove that category) more general dismay at the inaccuracies, especially regarding the name.
      Happier with the response my colleague just got though.

  4. I can forgive inaccuracies in a story (whether a TV show, a movie, or a novel) if they are reasonable. For example, if the character is getting it wrong, then clearly this is deliberate error for character/dramatic purposes. One would assume the writer has done enough research to be able to make deliberate mistakes. Or the writer might be fudging on some details for dramatic purposes. But it’s annoying when the details they choose to fudge on are easy to get right, and while they may not make a big difference to the plot, they add authenticity to the story. I mean, would it really have taken a lot of effort to get the trouser colour right? Seems a minor point, but its easier to forgive the “fudges” for dramatic purposes if its clear they’ve done their homework on the details.

    • Thanks Colin, I have been told that in some areas more staff wear generic colours but it’s really the name error that got me most. My colleague above just got a much more satisfactory response to her complaint.

  5. I got a response to my complaint last night… After an initial *bangs head* moment regarding the introduction about my ‘occupational health complaint’, but then it improved…

    “Thank you for contacting us regarding ‘Holby City’, broadcast on 21 May.
    We understand you were concerned by the content of this programme as you believe it featured a number of inaccuracies in relation to Occupational Health.
    We passed your concerns over to Simon Harper, Series Producer for the programme. He replied as follows:
    “It has been drawn to my attention that in Series XV Episode 32 of HOLBY CITY we inaccurately referred to occupational therapy as occupational health, and that the non-speaking occupational therapist was then inaccurately attired.
    Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention. I can absolutely appreciate how as a viewer, but more importantly perhaps, having a seemingly professional interest, this error must have riled you. I would like to take this opportunity to apologise.
    I would like to reassure you that we take the accuracy of our depiction of the NHS and its various specialisms very seriously on HOLBY CITY. All scripts are checked by our various medical consultants and we have an on-set nursing advisor. Sometimes, however, very occasionally, an error can slip through in filming, as would appear to have been the case here. I have noted this for the record, and will endeavour to ensure that should occupational therapy be referenced again in future episodes, it will be done so with full accuracy based on your helpful comments.
    Again, my apologies for this error, and my genuine thanks for your feedback, as dialogue with professionals on the way we tell our NHS stories is a valuable resource that only helps us to be better in the way we tell our stories here at HOLBY CITY. Thank you so much for watching and we do so hope that you will continue to do so and enjoy.
    My very best regards.”
    We’d also like to assure you we’ve registered your comments on our daily audience log. This is a summary of audience feedback that’s made available to the production managers, as well as senior management throughout the BBC. It allows us to use audience opinion to better inform future decisions about our content.”

    • That is a much better response. Can you share what you wrote?

      • I think I’ve been a bit liberal when deleting old emails, however from memory I challenged their use of the ‘occupation health’ and ‘occupational therapy’ titles interchangeably as inaccurate and highlighting that OT is a protected title under the HCPC. I emphasised that the roles were distinct and an occupational health officer/nurse would not be involved in the given scenario. ( I didn’t go into anything more detailed on whether an OT would actually be the one to do a cognitive assessment such as this, while I know we can do them I’ve not yet worked in a setting where anyone other than a mental health liaison nurse did cognitive assessments.) I also stated that within the NHS OTs are usually found wearing bottle green trousers and white t-shirts/tunics and that in this scenario the extra appeared to be wearing what would be more commonly associated with the physiotherapy profession.

      • Thanks. The HCPC mention was probably a big help. I’ve completed out cognitive screens working in acute medical but never with that many people watching.
        Hopefully the next time an OT is on the show it will be more accurate.

  6. Sounds like a general response with some added extras. I can totally understand the frustration. Let’s hope they try harder next time.
    Interesting post.
    Silvia @ Silvia Writes

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