Friday, 9 August 2013

The influence of a Soap

Last week an episode of Holby City was broadcast by the BBC, which featured organ donation. The episode was watched by more or less five million people so there was a fantastic opportunity there for the BBC to help the NHSBT in their cause to raise awareness of organ donation and transplant issues. We do not usually watch this programme, but switched on in anticipation and expectation that some of the issues surrounding organ donation would be explored and explained to the general public, which would then help towards all the hard work many people and organisations have done to promote awareness.

Soaps can be very influential in this day and age as millions of viewers tune in to them regularly and they can potentially influence a lot of people. They are often used as a vehicle to raise awareness of important causes and can help disseminate any controversy that may surround them.

Unfortunately this particular episode portrayed the organ donation process inaccurately on so many levels, irresponsibly jeopardising all the hard work undertaken to raise awareness of organ donation and increase the numbers on the organ donor register. There are still only a third of the population registered as organ donors, so there is still a long way to go in getting people to understand about organ donation and transplantation and informing the general public so people can make that important decision whether to be an organ donor or not. 

In the programme a potential donor was treated as a commodity and the donor family was bullied into agreeing to organ donation against their wishes, this was done by the actual doctor who wanted to perform a heart transplant to save another one of their patients. The mother of the donor also asked the doctor if she could go to have a look at the the recipient and she got to see her and meet the mother so she could check them out first. A heart transplant then ruthlessly took place when the donor's  mother had said she didn't want to donate her daughter's heart after all and after she was allowed to burst into the operating theatre.

All a very dramatic stuff, and you would expect some big elements of drama in a soap; however, one of the biggest fears that people have when considering organ donation and not understanding the processes and protocols involved, is that should they be in such a state where they may donate organs, doctors will be overzealous in their keenness to get their hands on them and their families feelings may be ridden over and not be considered in all this zest.    

Now a lot of these these myths and concerns have been addressed during recent campaigns such as ITV's 'From the Heart', so people have been able to overcome these ideas and sign up to be organ donors. In reality there is a specialist team and nurse both supporting and informing the family during every single step of the process, starting with making sure the family know and understand fully the condition their loved one is in. Agreement about every step of the process is sought throughout and nothing whatsoever is undertaken if the family feels it is inappropriate for their loved one or doesn't feel right for them. No family would ever be bullied into transplant and no part of the transplant process or a transplant would take place against the families wishes.

So most unfortunately, the BBC has now put these myths about organ donation back into the forefront of people's minds, swaying people to believe it is possible for doctors to break the protocols surrounding both the donor and recipient. I know some will say that it is only a soap opera and a drama and that's what they are all about, but unfortunately people are very easily influenced by them, especially nowadays when it is quite common for soaps to home in on current issues and use them to write their story lines.      

I was pleased to see that NHSBT felt this programme was so far off the truth they needed to issue a statement to clarify matters to potential donors and to people who have already registered. They even reported that some people were taking themselves off the register, because of the programme. Again, people will argue that these people coming off the register must be fickle, but people are genuinely frightened that some of things that were broadcast may happen to them and they begin to wonder if there is truth in them if the BBC, a supposedly world renowned organisation, has broadcast them.

There are strong and watertight protocols surrounding the whole organ donation process so that a situation like this would never happen. Both the donor and recipient have very separate medical teams and our organ donation system is built on complete trust between patients, families and medical staff. 

The BBC responded that they will be following the story up in future episodes - the consultant taking the rap for breaking the transplant protocols. The trouble is many people may not even see this and really it is very damaging to portray every protocol in the book being broken when it would just not be possible to happen in the first place. In this case their storyline is so flawed, it will be difficult to follow it up in any satisfactory manner.

This screening has gone a long way to break down the trust between patients and what actually happens and it was so disappointing to see when you are in the position of waiting for a transplant like me, especially when a soap reaches out to 5 million people and could really help our cause, rather than damaging what we have been trying to achieve. 

I am pleased the NHSBT responded as they did, some people may say it's an over reaction to just a soap story, but when a soap can influence millions and lives are at stake the record needs to be set straight and they have done the right thing. I've also been pleased to see that many complaints have been made to the BBC and that there has been much media attention stirred up, all in the cause of putting the facts straight and none of it good publicity for the makers of Holby City and the BBC.

Of course our expectations of soap operas may be too high and there has been some opposition to the transplant communities' views, one view was printed in a newspaper from a Holby City fan saying, 'it is a soap, soap is all made up, get a life!' Well my answer to that one is, 'I will one day when some very special person enables me to, but thanks to the BBC 'getting a life' could be potentially much longer!' They would feel very different I think if they or any of their family or friends had been affected by organ donation and so would the people involved in the making and broadcasting of this programme.

For our part, we have complained to the BBC and Rob was interviewed by the Welwyn Hatfield Times, here is the report they put in the paper:

I was also interviewed too by our local radio Jack FM and they broadcast their radio interview throughout the day on Wednesday.

Both the Welwyn Hatfield Times and Jack FM were more than too happy to help put the record straight and support us in doing so. Hopefully all publicity is good publicity as they say!

NHSBT statement:

The BBC replied to our complaint yesterday and in a nutshell they did not give any apology, just stated that they did not mean to upset anyone and that they had consulted specialists on the issue. The same bog standard reply went to out to many others in the transplant community. So we will just have to carry on campaigning as we have done and try and undo all the damage they have done.  

It is two years since I stayed in hospital for my full transplant assessment and coming up for nearly two years soon since I was listed for transplant. 
If you want to sign up to the organ donor register click on:

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