Have Casualty’s storylines become too political?

The BBC medical drama has all gone a bit Ken Loach according to Radio Times TV editor Alison Graham

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 14:59:45 on 03/01/2012 - Programme Name: Casualty - Portraits - TX: n/a - Episode: Casualty - Portraits (No. n/a) - Picture Shows:  Charlie Fairhead (DEREK THOMPSON) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Phil Fisk

BBC, TL

I love Casualty. It marks the start of my TV critic viewing week as I settle down to watch advance episodes on Friday mornings. My viewing week is obviously different from yours as I’m sure Casualty is the shining beacon of your Saturday nights.

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But what’s happened to this splendid warhorse? Has Ken Loach started writing and directing? Or perhaps David Hare, writer of the terribly worthy, right-on crime drama Collateral (BBC2)?

Because Casualty has suddenly become a lefty pulpit, a sermon full of pointed remarks about the Government and how stretched the NHS is. We know from the news that the NHS has had a hard time this winter, but no, please don’t park your trolleys in Casualty’s corridors.

This is Casualty, not Bodies. Or Panorama. Or 24 Hours in A & E, which, in the great circularity of these things, has become Casualty.

Recent episodes have featured the usually sparsely populated emergency department of Holby City Hospital groaning at the seams with an aberrant influx of patients. This causes an immediate problem because there aren’t enough staff members to interfere in the patients’ personal lives.

Instead, we have head of department Ethan, who always looks as if he knows he’s about to fall down a mineshaft, beetling his brow in the face of mutinous doctors and nurses.

Ethan, remember, in possibly my most treasured Casualty story, performed an illegal, secret operation on his boss Connie. This was after he murdered-by-neglect a patient, the man who’d killed his brother.

You see, this is where all the agitprop hits a wall. This is Casualty. For more than 30 years its staple has been runaway diggers, prams careening into busy roads and people falling through the floorboards of derelict houses. It’s Casualty, which can’t knowingly walk by a ladder without making sure someone props it up against an unsteady wall and falls.

It’s about Duffy, who’s kind to everyone and never expresses opinions about anything other than her husband Charlie, babies and little fluffy lambkins.

Yet in this week’s episode she’s Harriet Harman. “Attack the Government, not the Trust!” she barks.

Casualty is about staff who can’t help themselves; they MUST give unwanted advice to patients in extremis about their love lives; it’s about people discharging themselves though they’re still clearly unwell, before they collapse in corridors, or in the car park.

I like these bits. The stricken ones are always found by a medic who shouts my favourite line, the one I’d love to use in real life: “Can I have some help here please!”

Casualty is relatives bursting into a disturbingly accessible resus room to demand of a doctor, “What’s happened to her/him? Will she/he be all right?” before they are bundled out by David, the bum-bag nurse.

It’s about impassioned medics carrying out CPR on patients who have long since died, but, dammit, the medic just can’t let go. It’s up to a calm colleague to interfere; “Connie/Ethan/ Jacob… stop now, it’s no use, she/he has gone,” before they record the time of death.

It’s about sweet old dears admitted with seemingly simple medical problems who are like the red-shirt characters in Star Trek – you know they’ll be dead by the end of the show.

Can new Casualty go back to old Casualty? I want to see a digger.

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Casualty is on 8.20pm Saturday, BBC1