Being old and sick is not funny, but the care system itself can provide a rich vein of humour, Lauren Revans discovers
8, 15 & 22 July, 10.30pm
Billed as “darkly funny, tough and compassionate”, Getting On is as much food for thought as it is lines for laughs.
Starring and co-written by comedian and former psychiatric nurse Jo Brand, this three-part series about “nurses and doctors ‘getting on’ with life in an overlooked corner of the health service” was part of BBC4’s Grey Expectations season that ran throughout July.
While the show genuinely made me laugh, it was not comfortable viewing; every time I laughed, a split second later I felt guilty for doing so. After all, what is funny about being old and sick and needing to be treated in hospital?
Lots, according to Brand and her co-stars and co-writers Vicki Pepperdine and Joanna Scanlan. Thankfully, though, only a small amount of the comedy is at the expense of the elderly patients. Instead it is the system and the staff manning it who bear the brunt of the jokes.
First, we witness the health service’s red tape and bureaucracy revealed in all its idiocy. The second programme opens, for example, with Dr Pippa Moore, played by Pepperdine, delaying her ward round to argue with a jobsworth somewhere else in the building about where she has parked her car and the difference between a red-zone and blue-zone parking permit.
Meanwhile, Brand, who plays nurse Kim Wilde, is warned by Scanlan, as sister Den Flixter, that tapping a patient on the shoulder constitutes assault and could result in instant dismissal.
Then, we see the “patient as customer” philosophy exposed as farcical as patients barely able to utter their own names are asked to decide if they “strongly agree, agree, disagree or strongly disagree” with various statements about the quality of the care they have received during their stay on ward B4.
Aside from the humour, though, it is the storylines about the ward sister’s desperation to sedate a patient who is behaving like “a real loony”, and her request that the doctor put C. Diff (clostridium difficile) as a secondary rather than a primary cause on a patient’s death certificate so as not to add to the ward’s problematic “C. Diff stats” that linger in the mind, presumably because they are depressingly all too plausible.
On the whole, I would definitely recommend watching this series should it be re-run in the future. However, if an older friend or relative you care about is in hospital at the time, I would suggest avoiding it at all costs as the subject matter may well be just a little too close for comfort.
This review is published in the 30 July 2009 edition of Community Care under the headline “An uncomfortable laugh”