GLASGOW-based independent TV production company, Matchlight, has just completed its first film for Channel 4’s flagship current affairs strand, Dispatches.
The Truth About Junior Doctors: Channel 4 Dispatches screens tonight at 2000 hours.
Thirteen years ago, Dr Christian Jessen (presenter of C4’s Embarrassing Bodies) was a junior doctor working long hours which he feared might be putting patients at risk. But three years ago, European regulations were brought in to limit hours, to protect both doctors and patients. But in this Dispatches, Dr Christian discovers that junior doctors across Britain say they are still regularly working up to 90 hours a week.
Matchlight’s managing director, David Smith, answers the questions…
Who commissioned the series?
Tom Porter, commissioning editor, news and current affairs, Channel 4.
Explain the thinking behind the production’s ‘look and feel’
This is a current affairs film shot in a documentary style.
Who are the key personnel? How were they recruited?
Ross Wilson is the executive producer, Suzie Samant is the film’s producer/director and Keri Sutherland is the assistant producer. We cut the programme in-house with Chris Buckland as editor and our head of production, Pam Nelson, oversaw the production process with her assistant, Paul McCaffrey. Post-production was undertaken in London by Storm HD.
What kit and software?
Suzie self-shot a lot of the film, using a Canon XF305, though we did have a cameraman on some of the days we filmed with Doctor Christian. The cameraman used an Sony XDCam HD PMW800.
We cut in-house using Avid and then completed post-production at Storm HD. They used Avid Symphonies for the online and grade. The dub was also done by Storm.
What have been the main production challenges?
As with all current affairs films, the main challenge is making your case and then integrating the rights of reply that inevitably follow without stopping the flow of the show. Finding junior doctors who were willing to speak on camera and whose shift patterns married up with our production schedule also caused us some difficulty.
What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?
I think we were all genuinely shocked that junior doctors still work such long hours – many can still be scheduled to work seven consecutive, 12-hour night shifts. That’s 84 hours, even where everything goes to plan.
Where they have to stay on to ensure continuity of care or where they need to cover for colleagues, then the hours soon mount up.
Dr Christian follows two junior doctors through their gruelling working weeks, and we tested them before and after their shifts to assess the toll their fatigue takes on their performance.
As one junior doctor put it: “Having to put a very very small drip into a baby’s vein is quite hard when you’re kind of going bog-eyed and a bit fuzzy-brained.”
He had just worked over 90 hours on seven consecutive night shifts.
That said, working with Dr Christian was a real pleasure. It was a very different proposition for him but he handled the pressures of a current affairs production with real skill and charm.