THE Family Doctors reveals the realities of running a GP practice in Scotland.
The three-part documentary has been made for BBC Scotland by Red Sky Productions, run by Ross Harper and Jane Rogerson, who are executive producers on the series.
It starts airing on Thursday, January 11, at 2100, on BBC TWO Scotland, with the second and third programmes broadcast at the same time on January 18 and 25.
Here, executive producer Ross Harper, answers the questions…
Who commissioned the series?
It was commissioned by Ewan Angus, who was head of commissioning at BBC Scotland at the time, and the executive producer for the BBC is David Harron. We all felt that revealing the pressures that lie behind the familiar ten-minute appointment would uncover the realities of healthcare in Scotland.
We were struck by the statistic that one in three GPs aim to retire within the next five years and recruitment is proving difficult. So, the strains on the service are particularly acute.
Explain the thinking behind the production’s ‘look and feel’.
We wanted to show what goes on at a health centre – behind the scenes and not just in the consulting room. That meant trying to see healthcare not just through patient stories but from the GPs’ point of view as well.
We negotiated access to Elgin Health Centre, which is one of Scotland’s larger practices with a patient list of 17,000. Patients expect to see one of the handful of GPs, but there are over 70 people employed at the practice, from the reception staff to ‘emergency care practitioners’ – in Elgin’s case, an ex-paramedic and an Advanced Nurse – who deal with a huge range of clinical issues.
In order to get the full range of activities, we had roving cameras and some fixed cameras. That meant we could cover the familiar space of the consulting room, but also get the daily interactions of the reception team, the Duty Team fielding unscheduled appointments and the meetings at which the GP partners discussed sensitive matters. In addition, we filmed patient home visits, minor operations and an emotionally-charged leaving party for a valued member of the District Nursing Team.
By getting into all these places and allowing the action to unfold, we wanted to create a real feeling that the audience were getting to see somewhere familiar, but in a completely new way.
Who are the key personnel? How were they recruited?
Shruthi Rao started the ball rolling with Elgin Health Centre and I secured the access. Series producer, Jason Giberti, Tony McKee and Kirsten MacKenzie filmed during the summer and autumn of last year.
With footage logged on location by Lewis Adams and Victoria Rose, we spent many weeks in the edit at Arteus post-production, who were fantastic.
Editors, Michelle Reece and Gordon Hayden, are hugely experienced with observational documentary and did a terrific job alongside edit producers, Lucy Hazard and Karen Brown.
Shona White provided an excellent voice-over and everything was marshalled expertly by Red Sky’s head of Production, Pamela Nelson, and production manager, Alison Bishop, assisted by Anna Goldsworthy and Stacey Doohan.
What kit and software?
We filmed using an Arri Amira, Sony F7 and various go-pros and Canon D5. The sound is a Pro Tools mix by Kevin Robertson, the series was onlined in AVID by Graham Struthers and graded by Ian Ballantyne using Baselight.
What were the main production challenges?
With any medical documentary, our primary concern is duty of care to patients and ensuring that full consent was given for everyone we featured in the series.
We weren’t sure whether anyone would want their consultation with their GP to be filmed, but excellent work by the team on the ground – ensuring that our presence was low-key, open and considerate – meant lots of people gave us their trust.
You could say it was a little tricky getting a system in place that gave us the best chance of filming with patients, while protecting the privacy of those who didn’t wish to be filmed, and also making sure that we didn’t inhibit the GPs treating patients. We worked very hard to develop a process that worked for everyone.
It was very important to handle, with sensitivity, the conversations and situations that we were privy to.
What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?
I learned that there’s far more to primary healthcare than the ‘traditional’ family doctor, and that the GP could become an endangered species. It’s clear, over the series, that the system is under real strain, but it really isn’t clear what the answer is.
I also learned that, despite all the challenges that GPs and other staff face, patients generally have huge respect and appreciation of what is being done for them and their well-being.
Plus, I learned that, because GPs don’t really get to see their colleagues in action, when they got to see the footage they found plenty to tease each other about.