Hospital returns to BBC Two for a new series this week - here's all you need to know.
Following a two-part Coronavirus special earlier this year, a new series of six episodes airs on Monday nights.
The sixth series of the BAFTA-nominated documentary will air weekly at 9PM on BBC Two and online via BBC iPlayer.
With lockdown lifted, the staff at London’s Royal Free Trust struggle to pick up the pieces as they grapple with the extraordinary challenge of operating within the new Covid-19 landscape.
Following the human stories behind the headlines of staff and patients alike, the series explores the unintended cost of effectively closing the doors of the NHS, as fears rise over the number of people who may die, not because of Covid-19 but due to delay in the diagnosis and treatment for life-threatening conditions.
Hospital 2020 episodes
Episode 1 - 9 November
The first episode explores the impact on patients from the NHS having to prioritise their response to the national pandemic above almost everything else. During the pandemic, most of the Trust’s work in their three hospitals was completely halted in order to allow it to cope with nearly 2,000 patients with Covid-19.
It’s now August, and the Royal Free London must enforce strict new Covid protocols, including social distancing, Covid testing and Covid-secure ‘pathways’ for patients who enter the hospital. Although there are mounting waiting lists, the new restrictions mean the hospital’s activity is down by 50%, causing huge waits for diagnosis and treatment despite NHS staff’s tireless efforts.
Episode 2 - 16 November
It is mid-summer, and the trust has a target of getting all services back to 90 per cent of their pre-Covid activity and all within strict new infection control guidelines. The NHS has mounting backlogs, and departments across the trust are battling for scarce theatre slots while trying to prioritise their volume of cases.
They are doing everything they can to treat as many patients as possible safely, but when at any moment staff can be sent home to isolate because of a suspected Covid diagnosis or contact, the immensity of the challenge is clear.
At Barnet Hospital, a large team meeting is underway when a clinician is informed he has tested positive for coronavirus. He must leave the site immediately, while the hospital's infection control team spring into action to identify who has had ‘significant contact’ with him and must therefore also go home and isolate for 14 days. Any positive result has the power to take out swathes of staff and have a huge impact on the hospital and its patients.
Episode 3 - 23 November
Patients with kidney disease who are on dialysis and waiting for a transplant are extremely vulnerable to Covid-19 - a quarter of the hospital’s dialysis patients who caught the virus during the first wave of the pandemic died.
Four months later, as infection numbers have dropped, and alongside the implementation of new infection-control protocols, the service is finally able to start again. The department, desperate to maximize on this window, have performed three months' worth of transplants in five weeks. But as the hospital begins to see numbers rise once again, how long can they continue to offer these life-changing operations?
Episode 4 - 30 November
As autumn begins, the hospital’s Emergency Department is seeing a resurgence of patients after a summer of low attendances. More people are arriving in A&E than almost any other day since last winter, and they are admitting more patients than they are discharging. Every patient being admitted must be tested for Covid-19, but the results can take up to 48 hours to come back.
Staff must deal with the conundrum of where to place patients, as they must isolate symptomatic patients and manage the constant risk that those without symptoms later test positive. This issue, combined with the recurring challenge of older patients staying as in-patients for long periods, means that Barnet's bed shortage, which was an issue even prior to the pandemic, has suddenly multiplied.
Episode 5 - 7 December
As the second wave of coronavirus strikes, the clinicians have more treatments in their arsenal to fight the virus. A plethora of experimental drugs are available for patients as part of nationwide trials. 72-year-old intensive care patient Mr Tang, a London bus driver for seventeen years, is struggling to breathe. Professor Hasan Tahir is keen to give him a trial drug in the hope that it will improve his lung function.
Another patient eligible for a cutting-edge trial is mother of two Greta. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in the middle of lockdown, and chemotherapy has weakened her immune system, leaving her vulnerable to the virus. The trials team need to help her recover from Covid quickly in order that she can have a life-saving mastectomy. Greta is offered hope when she is randomly selected to receive 'convalescent plasma' – antibody rich plasma that is harvested from the blood of those who have already battled the virus.
It’s unknown whether these treatments will have a positive impact, but the hope is that as the second wave of the pandemic engulfs the UK, the Trust is better equipped to fight back.
Episode 6 - 12 December
As a second England-wide lockdown is in force, the Royal Free Hospital must continue to try and get through the biggest operating waiting list in its history. As a specialist centre, it sees some of the UK’s most complicated cancer patients. But with many patients in need of intensive care beds, the pressure placed on the Trust’s intensive care staff is immense.
Meanwhile, in Barnet, the Trust’s second largest hospital, the number of Covid-19 patients has more than doubled in the last week. As the hospital deals with the new influx of patients, Barnet’s senior team have a major staffing problem. Because of an outbreak of Covid-19 on three of the wards, staff have to self-isolate and be tested, whether symptomatic or not, in order to halt the spread.
All these pressures mean that it is critical that the roll-out of the new coronavirus vaccine happens as early as possible. If the vaccine succeeds, it would present the biggest weapon the NHS possesses in the fight to overcome the second and further waves of Covid-19.
Hospital airs on Monday nights at 9PM on BBC Two and you can watch online via BBC iPlayer.