TV doctors can offer more than GPs

Dr Ian Campbell
I don’t agree with Clare and in this matter you are wrong. I was first on TV many years ago when I was saying the Hippocratic Oath at my graduation. It just so happened that the BBC were there filming it so TV doctoring is not a new concept to me. My first foray into going on TV was 15 years ago and I wanted to do it to wake people up about the huge problem of obesity. Back then, no one seemed to be bothered but they are now. TV helped to get the message across.
Everyone has the right to being health aware – it’s not just the people who listen to Radio 4 but the people who watch the Jeremy Kyle show too. Why shouldn’t they know what is going on?
I swore to communicate effectively and give patients the information they needed in a way that they could understand.  The Reith principles, which underpinned the BBC until a few weeks ago, were that TV should inform and educate. It should also entertain.
There are three types of people who go on TV shows as patients. The first are the people who will do anything to be on TV. The second group are the show and tell characters. The people who have a genetic disorder and want to raise awareness about it. Being on TV with these people is fantastic and humbling. But the third group, and the majority of people who go on TV with their health problems, are those who don’t have the answers they are trying to get. It is the fault of the medical system that we are not delivering for these people.
Let’s look at the big picture. ITV’s Biggest Loser has produced some important research about obesity that we didn’t know before. We now understand, for example, that obese people who lose weight still have a low leptin level which makes it hard for them to keep weight off.
So do I think that TV doctors uphold the principle of the Hippocratic Oath? Yes, I do. Let me read you a letter I received from a member of the public two days ago. ‘I would be enormously grateful if you could offer me a sliver of hope for a diagnosis.’ We go far beyond what GPs can offer.
Dr Dawn Harper
I am a practising GP in Stroud and a presenter on Embarrassing Bodies. When I was first asked to audition for Embarrassing Bodies, I had exactly the same concerns as many of you. I spent many hours talking to the GMC. But I was reassured. All patients who go on Embarrassing Bodies are asked to speak to a psychologist first. They are all allowed to withdraw their consent. In all the series, there was only one girl who asked for her footage not to be aired and this was respected.
In terms of follow-up, every patient on Embarrassing Bodies is allotted a member of the crew who is available. In terms of what happens afterwards, we do know what happens.
There was a lady who was congenitally deaf. Thanks to the show, she was able to have a cochlear implant fitted which restored her hearing.
One thing we did was build a vulva wall – there were lots of images of completely normal vulva. What we wanted to show was that what you see on pornography sites is not normal.
I have learned so much more learning about the emotional impact of disease from the two-hour appointments I have with patients on the show, compared to the 10-minute appointments I can offer as an NHS GP. It has made me a better NHS doctor.
I completely understand the reservations some people may have about Embarrassing Bodies but I am incredibly proud of it. The NHS contacted the production company to say that they would like to collaborate with us on our website which has saved them so much money by being a source of information.  People can use the site to start talking about difficult issues with their children. People come to me as a GP and tell me that they were watching the show and recognised that they have the same problem as what we were featuring. And when I ask them how long they have had the problem, they tell me months or years, not weeks. Somehow, the show gave them the courage to come and discuss it with a doctor.
Embarrassing Bodies has been called a modern-day freak show, but I think that Maverick and Channel 4 have done an incredible job, luring viewers in but educating them along the way. Thousands of letters tell me the show has saved lives. Young men have found lumps in their testicles and young women have found cancerous lumps in their breasts. On balance, I am very proud to be part of it.

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