To mark the 70th anniversary of the National Health Service (NHS) both the BBC and ITV are launching a series of special programmes centred on the inner workings of the iconic institution.
The BBC’s schedule of programming will run from 25 June to 8 July, and the series will include programmes across BBC One, BBC Two and BBC Four, as well as BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio 4 and will celebrate the long history of the NHS as well as examining what the future might hold.
The cornerstone of ITV’s planned programming will be the NHS Heroes Awards, announced on 14 May, which will be hosted by Paul O’Grady. The awards will honour the life-changing and life-saving work of those involved in the NHS, with categories including Mental Health Champion and Pioneering Hero award. O’Grady said: “We've all experienced the NHS at some stage, myself included… We will be honouring the incredible medical staff and also the dedicated work of porters, cleaners and of course the army of volunteers without whom the NHS could not function.”
The focus of the events for the BBC will be a 90 minute broadcast, live from a hospital, hosted by Nick Robinson and Anita Rani, which will be shown on BBC Two. This programme will look at the big questions of the NHS today and where it’s future lies, featuring an audience comprised of patients and NHS staff, as well as health experts and leading medical pioneers.
There will also be a new drama from BBC Wales, To Provide All People, written by acclaimed poet Owen Sheers and featuring a talented British cast including Michael Sheen, Tamsin Grieg, and Martin Freeman. The film will portray a day in the life of an NHS hospital, from first breaths to last, joys and heart breaks. It will show, through a wide cast of characters, the depth of diversity within the NHS, in both its patients and staff.
ITV has commissioned A&E Live, which will feature Davina McCall embedded in the emergency department of the busy Leeds General Infirmary, which will follow emergencies from the initial 999 call to the ambulance and finally the hospital. McCall said: “They never know exactly what they’re going to face, but they’re always prepared to do their best and it’s going to be fascinating to see them up close doing their vital work.”
BBC One has commissioned a two-part series featuring a cast of celebrities, including Stacey Dooley and Anne Widdecombe, who will spend time working on the floor of one of London’s biggest and busiest hospitals called Life on the Ward.
BBC One has also commissioned a five-part series, Matron, Medicine and Me, which features five well-known personalities exploring how the NHS has changed in the last 70 years. Featuring Fern Britton and Denise Lewis, this series will commend the role of doctors and nurses in making the NHS a national institution. There will also be a special edition of Songs of Praise on 1 July featuring chaplains and Christian doctors and nurses.
ITV’s commission, Love Your Garden: NHS Special has veteran gardener Alan Titchmarsh and his team at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital building a green space for staff and patients. The hospital, which is the largest single site children’s hospital in the country, doesn’t have a designated garden. Last year many victims of the Manchester Arena bombing were brought here, some of whom are still being treated.
BBC Two will host a five-part series called Hospitals that Changed the World as well as The British Buyers Club: the story of Greg Owen, a former sex worker who helped to stem the outbreak of HIV by providing access to the PrEP drug which prevents the virus developing.
“Our national health service is one of the most hotly debated, celebrated, and scrutinised British institutions,” said Joanna Carr, the BBC’s Head of Current Affairs. “We hope this season of programmes truly embodies the BBC’s Reithian mission to inform, educate and entertain.”
The roster of shows shown on ITV “will honour the men and women who make a real difference in the service of one of Britain's greatest institutions and hopefully make us all think a little bit less about what our NHS can do for us and a little more about what we can do to help our NHS,” said Sue Murphy, ITV Head of Factual Entertainment.
The series of programming on the BBC will extend to radio with National Health Stories, a twenty-part series on BBC Radio 4 and an unusual symphony composed entirely of sounds of the NHS and comments from staff and patients, on BBC Radio 3. There will also be an analysis by BBC News with four leading think-tanks as to the most important questions facing the NHS in its 70th year; the results of which will be published in late June.