Breathtaking: TV COVID drama ‘too real to watch’ for some nurses

ITV series described on social media as an authentic depiction of the pressures and trauma front-line staff experienced
Joanne Froggatt in the tv drama Breathtaking

ITV series described on social media as an authentic depiction of the pressures and trauma front-line staff experienced

Joanne Froggatt in the tv drama Breathtaking
Joanne Froggatt in the drama Breathtaking Picture: ITV

Nurses who worked on the NHS front line during the COVID-19 pandemic have praised the ITV drama Breathtaking for its representation of what they went through, saying it is ‘almost too real’ to watch.

The gritty three-part drama starring Joanne Froggatt depicts the experiences of NHS nurses forced to wear bin bags as personal protective equipment (PPE), negotiating bed shortages and changing guidance, along with the trauma and tragedy of losing so many patients and colleagues to the virus.

Nurses on social media share their own harrowing memories of the pandemic

Determined to make the show as true to life as possible, writer Rachel Clarke, a doctor, ensured it was based on real-life experiences of staff from across the UK, with three intensive care unit (ICU) nurses and two doctors constantly on hand to advise on medical procedures and emotional impacts as they filmed on set.

The show, which aired on ITV from 19-21 February and is now available on the ITVX app, prompted nurses on social media to share their own harrowing memories of the pandemic, with some urging ‘every single member of the government to watch it’.

Mental health nursing apprentice Charlotte Proud said: ‘I can’t bring myself to watch #Breathtaking just yet because of the memories. Living alone during the first lockdown and working on ITU helping patients with their rehab. I think I probably cried most days.’

Nurse Rebecca Logan commented: ‘You wouldn’t send soldiers to war unarmed yet our government let #NHSworkers risk their lives due to inadequate PPE.’

Poet, author and nurse champion Michael Rosen said he had been ‘shaken and triggered’ by watching the show. He also revealed that Thom Petty, who played the character Dr Westland in the drama, was in the NHS team that saved his life at Whittington Hospital in March 2020, where he spent 40 days in a coma with COVID-19.

Fictional hospital with fictional characters, but everything depicted actually happened

Nurse of 50 years Tiz Broken added: ‘Our front-line staff went into battle woefully unprotected, insanely the government and its advisers were fully aware of this but went ahead and downgraded the virus from an HCID (high consequence infectious disease) despite it meeting all the criteria of one. In my opinion this is criminal.’

While the TV drama is set in a fictional London hospital with fictional characters, everything that appears on screen actually happened to a real patient or member of staff in the NHS.

Writer researched by talking to staff and patients across the country

Palliative care doctor and writer of the drama Dr Clarke said: ‘The story does not directly map onto any individual doctor, nurse or other healthcare professional in the NHS. However, everything you witness has come from exhaustive research, talking to members of staff and patients from a whole variety of different hospitals and settings across the country.

‘It is real. It has happened somewhere to somebody. This is what it was truly like. What you are witnessing is true.’

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