This Is Going To Hurt, BBC One’s new medical drama starring Ben Whishaw, is adapted from writer Adam Kay’s memoir of the same name.
Kay, who wrote all seven episodes of the series, is himself a former doctor. The memoir (and now the television adaptation) is based on his own experiences working in the NHS.
The real Kay worked as a doctor in the NHS from 2004 to 2010; in 2005, he began to specialise in obstetrics and gynaecology, which is where the character Adam Kay is working when the series opens in 2006.
Medical students and junior doctors are encouraged to write detailed diaries as part of their “reflective practice”. In the years after his resignation from the NHS, Kay began to sort through his files and destroy them – around the same time he was going through his diaries, however, then Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt called junior doctors lazy. It was this that prompted Kay to publish his diaries, to try and dispel that accusation and change the way that junior doctors are perceived.
In that sense, then, This Is Going To Hurt is based on a true story.
Kay explained in an interview, however, that much of the wider world beyond his own character is an amalgamation of different people – different colleagues, different patients, so on. As he said, to depict real people straightforwardly “wouldn’t be fair. It’s not your story to tell.”
(Part of that is also a confidentiality concern – if he depicted real patients, Kay joked, he’d go to prison.)
So while Ben Whishaw’s Doctor Kay is a real person – based on the author of the book and screenwriter of the series – his colleague Shruti, played by Ambika Mod, is an invention for the series. Similarly, though the broad details of Whishaw’s Kay’s personal life reflects the real Kay’s personal life, it’s not exact; the depiction of Kay’s partner and parents in This Is Going To Hurt doesn’t map 1:1 onto real life, though Kay is gay and his medical career did significantly impact his home life.
Kay is currently married to James Farrell, a television producer who worked on Game of Thrones. Kay has performed standup comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe, and has writing credits on episodes of Mrs Brown’s Boys and Mitchell and Webb; he previously co-created the BBC Three prison sitcom Crims.
This Is Going To Hurt has received extensive praise for its feeling of authenticity. In NationalWorld’s review of the series, we commented on its “uncompromising and often graphic look at life as a junior doctor in the NHS”, and noted that “the affection, and indeed sympathy, it has for its workers is always obvious enough – but just as often this love letter to the NHS reads like a searing indictment of the health service’s every limitation”.
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