TV blog: The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs

Benjie Goodhart / 08 September 2016

Can in-depth consultations and personalised plans help patients avoid drugs? Plus, a look at conspiracy theories and the best of the rest.

The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs, Thursday 15th September, 9pm, BBC One

Things that are on the TV every day: The news. The weather. A maverick policeman with an unhappy personal life. Something with the word ‘benefits’ in the title. And at least one of the van Tulleken twins.

Doctors Chris and Xand van Tulleken are so ubiquitous, I’m beginning to suspect someone has cloned them. I mean, cloned them again (they are identical twins, after all). Still, it’s not a bad thing – they’re both personable and eloquent and passionate and interesting – and this two-part documentary by Dr Chris is a case in point.

In this country, over a billion prescriptions are written every year. A billion. That is over 15 for every man, woman and child in the UK. Many people will take up to 100,000 pills in their life. The figures are almost incomprehensible in their insanity. And the effects can be devastating. Thousands of people die every year as a result of taking medication. As Dr Chris says, "The number one cause of acute liver injury in this country is paracetamol overdose”.

But it gets worse. At the rate we are consuming antibiotics, we are in very real danger that they will quickly become ineffective. If antibiotic resistance becomes a reality… well, I’ll allow Dr Chris to explain, using his tender, careful and soothing bedside manner: “It would spell the end of life as we know it on this planet.” So, y’know, not good.

Dr Roche explains why doctors are trying to reduce the use of antibiotics

As such, Dr Chris is on a mission to change the culture of pill-popping, by stopping the way GPs hand out drugs. So he goes to a GP’s surgery in London, where he shadows a doctor called Dr Kam. Dr Kam looks like he’d rather spend the day taking rectal swabs than helping Dr Chris, and it quickly becomes apparent why. The harassed and overworked GPs only have time to form a quick diagnosis and write out a prescription before the next patient is due. Holistic considerations are pie in the sky.

As Professor Muir Gray, who has the excellent title of Head of Knowledge at the NHS, points out, ten minutes per appointment will never allow the kind of care required to start adopting a drug-free approach. Dr Chris admits at the end of the day “I’m intensely depressed.”

Nevertheless, Dr Chris embarks on a mission to get two patients off long term medication. It’s a lot of work – involving home visits, and carefully drawn-up, bespoke plans. But the results are little short of extraordinary.

This is fascinating, eye-opening and hugely important stuff. Many experts believe that limiting the use of antibiotics may be the single most important issue facing mankind. But clearly, if things are to change, we need to start by giving our doctors the time – and resources – to make the necessary changes. And we need our government and the medical profession pulling in the same direction. Nothing to worry about there, then, right?

How to make the most of your appointment with your GP

9/11: Truth, Lies and Conspiracies, Tuesday 13th September, 9pm, ITV

It’s fifteen years since the devastating terrorist attacks of 9/11. While the events of that day seem frighteningly fresh and vivid, in many ways it feels like longer ago. It’s  difficult to remember a world pre-9/11, before the heightened airport security, the depressingly repetitious cycle of terrorist atrocities, and the wars that continue to be fought in the name of freedom.

A lot has happened since that September day in 2001. And yet, for many, the search for answers as to what happened, and why, continues. This one-off documentary looks at those people searching, and at the questions they are posing.

It’s pretty difficult to have a major historical incident and not get the conspiracy theorists out in force, and 9/11 was no exception. In the weeks and months after the Twin Towers collapsed, there were countless cranks who posited the idea that the towers could not have been caused to collapse by plane strikes, that they were demolished from within, etc etc. These arguments were almost immediately, and resoundingly, discredited, but that hasn’t stopped businessman Jimmy Walter from spending $6m of his own money in an attempt to prove that 9/11 was a plot by the government and the CIA to increase defence spending. Indeed, his assertion is that no planes hit the towers, they were simply computer graphics. Mind you, at one point, he references the film The Matrix. I think, at that stage, you can probably discount the opinions of Mr Walter, which the programme sensibly does.

But not all of the conspiracy theories are so outlandish, or so absurd. This is a thought-provoking and troubling film, albeit slightly disjointed. The first part, dealing with the more extreme conspiracy theorists, is of the “Look at this loonie isn’t he weird” variety. The rest of it is a more sober and forensic examination of the evidence into some plausible scenarios. And, throughout it all, there are the astonishing, terrible and unforgettable images of what happened on that day. Whatever happened, and for whatever reasons, on 9/11, the pictures will never lose their shocking, visceral power.

The best… and the rest

Saturday 10th September

The Jonathan Ross Show, ITV, 9:30pm: The one-time king of chat returns, with guests Renee Zellweger, John Malkovich, and a host of Olympic heroes, in an effort to step out of the increasingly long shadow cast by Graham Norton.

Read our interview with Graham Norton

Sunday 11th September

Scotland and the Battle for Britain, BBC Two, 8pm: Andrew Marr’s two –part series looks at the transformation of Scottish politics, with the SNP going from largely derided also-rans to the vastly dominant political power.

Horizon, 9pm, BBC Two: From Marr to Carr (is there time for Roseanne Barr?) as comedian Jimmy Carr looks at the science of laughter as part of the BBC sitcom season.

Tuesday 13th September

Later Live with Jools Holland, 10pm, BBC Two: The musical maestro starts a new run of his eclectic live show with contributions from Kings of Leon, Jack White, and some fellow called Sting.

Wednesday 14th September

Natural World, 9pm, BBC Two: An insight into Jaguars, including what to do with two small Jaguars that have been abandoned.

And, erm… that’s it. A weirdly quiet week in tellyland, thanks to most of the bug autumn series now having started, and the Paralympics dominating proceedings on Channel 4. 

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