In 2016, junior doctors in England took part in a general strike as a result of a contract dispute with the National Health Service (NHS). While the physicians felt that their contractual agreement would force them to work longer hours for less pay, former NHS Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Jeremy Hunt, accused these young medics of harming their patient’s wellbeing. Angered by Hunt’s comments, Adam Kay published a book about his experiences working as a severely underpaid and overworked junior doctor called This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor. This book, which became an international bestseller and sold over one million copies, shed a harsh but humorous light on the problems doctors faced while working in an underfunded health care system.
With Covid still at the forefront of our lives, it makes perfect sense for Kay to adapt his book into an AMC series for new audiences. This is Going to Hurt is an excellent exploration into the inner workings of an NHS hospital, thanks in part to its winning performances, ability to humanize NHS doctors, and most importantly, its use of humor to add levity to its dark moments.
Set in 2006 London, This is Going to Hurt follows Adam (Ben Whishaw), a cankerous but highly dedicated junior doctor who works in the obstetrics and gynecology ward in an NHS hospital in London. As an overworked doctor, Adam must balance his career aspirations with his relationship with long-term boyfriend Harry (Rory Fleck Byrne) or risk losing his lover forever. While at the same time, he avoids the ire of his boss, chief consultant Mr. Lockhart (Alex Jennings) and head midwife Tracy (Michele Austin) for skirting the rules. Though Adam has his work cut out for him, newbie Shruti (Ambika Mod) also struggles with accepting that her dream of becoming a doctor may not align with reality.
This is Going to Hurt does an excellent job exposing the harsh realities of working at an NHS hospital. The series depicts in the seven episodes for review the various complicated issues NHS doctors must navigate, such as corrupt bureaucracies, mountains of paper works, rude and racist patients, lack of funds, little assistance for new hires, inadequate equipment, pointless workshops, leaky ceilings, and so on. Yet, despite the chaos, these intelligent and dedicated men and women will do everything they can to ensure the health and safety of the pregnant women who enter their maternity ward.
Take, for example, Adam. He is willing to go above and beyond for his patients, even as he jeopardizes his job. Near the end of Episode 2, the junior doctor refuses to send a pregnant patient home despite the objective of his colleague Julian (Kadiff Kirwan) and superior Mr. Lockhart. Instead of following orders, Adam sends the woman to the operating theater and discovers that her abdominal pain is more severe than the other doctors presumed. Thanks to Adam’s quick thinking and intuition, the mother and her child get to live another day.
Although the show covers some grim issues, its humor helps viewers swallow the horse-sized grimdark pill with ease. Adam and his colleagues may have to deal with bodily fluids, domestic abuse situations, and sleep deprivation, yet there are several light moments in the series. There is one scene in Episode 2 where Adam retrieves a Kinder Surprise Egg from the, uh, nether regions of a woman’s body. This moment, which plays for laughs, cleverly depicts the bizarre situations physicians must contend with while on the job. Fortunately for Adam and his patient, he performs the non-surgical procedure successfully, and the woman uses the egg to, ahem, surprise her doting boyfriend.
Whishaw also does a stellar job with his role as Adam. The No Time to Die actor portrays the troublesome doctor with multitudes of layers. For instance, there are several moments in the series where Adam, who has the backbone of an ox, will break down from the pressures of being a junior doctor, like when he develops PTSD-like symptoms after performing an emergency C-section on a misdiagnosed woman named Erika (Hannah Onslow). Admittingly, the character does break the fourth wall to speak to the audience, yet Whishaw manages to make the overused gimmick enjoyable with his knowing glances and deliciously jaded commentary.
Interestingly, Adam’s internal turmoil with balancing his career and long-term relationship with Harry elevates the series to new heights. Adam is a gay man who is slightly uncomfortable presenting himself as a queer person to the world. Although he is out to his friends or rather his boyfriend’s friends since he is too busy to make his own, the doctor does not broadcast his relationship to his colleagues until the halfway mark of Season 1. It is not that Adam is ashamed of being gay, far from it, but he puts his identity as a junior doctor above all else. This conflict is intriguing as it creates a rift between him and Harry, who happens to be more comfortable in his own skin.
Adam’s identity crisis works because navigating the world as a gay man in 2006 is different than navigating it in 2022. Notably, Section 28, a law that banned schools from teaching LGBTQ+ history and culture, was not abolished in the United Kingdom until 2003 (sounds familiar, right?). For men, women, and nonbinary folks like Adam, functioning in a world that does not want you to exist can be exhausting and stressful. This is Going to Hurt depicts this societal pressure well, thanks to its characterization of Adam.
However, the true MVP of the series is Mod. She brings so much depth with her performance as Shruti. The actor remarkably takes her character from a bright-eyed wallflower to a broken woman within the seven episodes. Like Adam, Shruti places her whole identity on being a doctor. But unlike her experienced counterpart, Shruti is unable to accept that her high expectations do not align with the reality of being an NHS physician.
Shruti’s unwavering begins when she has her one-on-one chat with her mentor Miss Houghton (Ashley McGuire), a no-nonsense but funny obstetrician consultant, in Episode 4. During their discussion in a restaurant, Shruti asks her colleague if her experience as a doctor will improve over time. Instead of giving Shruti encouraging words, Miss Houghton tells her that if she cannot handle the job, she needs to quit while she is ahead. Then the seasoned doctor adds, “By the time you retire, they’ll be a busload of dead babies with your name on it.” Stunned and completely heartbroken, Shruti’s sense of self disintegrates on the screen. This scene, which is utterly heartbreaking to watch, puts Mod’s skills as a talented actor on display.
Shruti’s situation is tragic because it is happening as I type these final words. Due to the pandemic, more hospitals are experiencing physician burnout and staffing shortage worldwide. However, thanks to Kay and his production team, viewers will see what it is like for doctors to work in a criminally underfunded health care system in the UK. Hopefully, This is Going to Hurt will get more people to talk about our utterly broken institutions so we can finally do something about it before it is too late.
New episodes of This is Going to Hurt Season 1 drop every Thursday on AMC+ And Sundance Now starting June 2.