With just days to go until the launch of the new A&E Live ITV series, filmed at Leeds General Infirmary, Joseph Keith speaks to its presenter Davina McCall about her impressions of the city’s emergency derpartments and staff after going behind the scenes.
It is valued as a crucial emergency hub in the city, where staff have been saving lives and patching up patients with care for almost 70 years.
The spotlight will shine on Leeds General Infirmary’s A&E department as cameras capture the stories of patients - from the 999 call to treatment in hospital as-it-happens - during a special live TV mini-series.
Hosted by presenter Davina McCall, ITV’s A&E Live show hits the small screen for three days only next week.
To mark the launch of the series, and in the run up to the NHS’s 70th anniversary, the YEP is today launching a week of stories focusing on the city’s urgent care centres, as part of our We Love Our NHS campaign.
From star-studded contestants in Big Brother, heartwarming tales of separation in Long Lost Family and the suspense-filled atmosphere surrounding The Million Pound Drop, Davina McCall has seen it all when it comes to television.
Or so she thought.
The 50-year-old will be pulling the show strings from the LGI when A&E Live is broadcast next week - juggling the drama from call to cure first-hand alongside staff at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.
After spending a week setting up, meeting staff and peering behind the screens at the LGI’s A&E department, does it run as she imagined?
“When I took this programme on, because I’m literally addicted to medical dramas, I assumed that A&E would be utter chaos,” Davina told the YEP.
“Behind the doors that you never get to see, I thought that it would be like ER [the American TV show] and it’s just not like that at all.
“It’s very calm, it’s very methodical.
“People know when something is coming in, everybody gets called down and there’s a kind of conductor of all the specialists who knows what job needs to go where.
“It’s run so efficiently that it’s really calm - bizarrely calm I think, sometimes.”
Featuring cases from everyday traumas to major incidents that require life-saving treatment, it is billed as an “innovative series” that will show A&E “as you’ve never seen it before”.
During visits around A&E as she prepares for the show to go live, Davina said she was introduced to the emotional toll that working in the emergency department can take on its hard-working staff.
“People are used to the gore, the guts, and the broken bones,” she said.
“But actually sometimes if it’s a child, or an elderly patient or someone that’s alone, the emotional side of it stays with them [the staff] for a few days.
“They have to talk to each other and there are protocols in place to make sure that the staff get support as well.”
There are countless other A&E departments dotted in towns and cities across the country, so why choose Leeds to put under the microscope for the groundbreaking short series?
“There’s a million reasons why Leeds was chosen [as the location],” she said. “But number one: it was the birthplace of emergency medicine.
“Number two: it’s one of the leading trauma centres in Britain. And the constant, pioneering work that is done here. But also for me, it’s so much about people.
“I want to celebrate the NHS - and I really want to celebrate the people and the characters in it.
“You’re all so chatty [in Leeds], I love it. It’s so easy to talk to people up here and people will tell you their stories and be so open.”
Among the first places Davina visited during her early tours of Leeds’ hospitals this month was St James’ Hospital’s newly-launched Frailty Unit. A dedicated space for elderly people over 80 years old, it offers patients who may be frail or have dementia an alternative to the often busy, confusing and noisy emergency departments.
It is a cause that is close to her heart, she said, as her grandmother suffers from dementia and her dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
“I love the frailty unit,” she said. “My granny has got dementia, and my dad has got Alzheimer’s so something like that for somebody with dementia or Alzheimer’s is a God-send.”
Back on the emergency department floor, Davina was also introduced to the LGI’s ‘bus stop’ inside A&E, where signs have been installed to help keep dementia patients calm.
“I nearly cried when I saw that,” she said.
“They [the patient] know that a bus stop is somewhere that you can sit and wait. I thought God, that is so thoughtful and comforting for somebody in what would normally be a really scary environment.”
Meanwhile, Davina had glowing praise for the trust’s The Leeds Way culture - an ethos for staff to follow that aims to bring staff together in order to give patients the best possible care.
“The Leeds Way is a thing. It’s a thing that other hospitals are looking at,” she said.
“It trickles down all the way to porters and the thing that I love about this place is that morale on the floor.
“If you were to just look at the news, you would think ‘NHS in crisis’, ‘everybody hates it and the staff hate it and everything’s terrible’.
“But actually morale on the floor here is high, it’s good.
“Yes, resources are tight and they are trying to manage restricted resources, but they are doing the very best that they can do with what they’ve got. And they all feel good about that and they are definitely - and this is part of the whole Leeds Way thing - a family, right down to everybody.
“There is a real mutual respect for every single person that works in this hospital.”
She’s now met the staff, walked around the wards and seen how it runs in practice.
But is Davina ready to take on A&E in Leeds?
“I’m terribly squeamish,” she revealed.
“This is something that has been flagged up and I am going to go and see a hypnotist before we start.
“Emotionally, I’ve dealt with a lot in life and I feel like I’m quite strong inside. But show me blood and I will faint.
“So I need to get that sorted before we start filming because that’s going to be ridiculous if the presenter is out for like 15 minutes.”
The city’s hospitals will feature on A&E Live on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9pm on ITV next week.