‘Baby Surgeons’ documentary is an opportunity to talk about difficult issues

NHS comms professionals often break into a cold sweat at the prospect of a production crew making a documentary about their organisation – and make no mistake it's not for the faint-hearted – but I know from experience that the rewards can be huge.

The right documentary can boost staff morale, reputation, and play a role in recruitment, argues Pippa Harper
The right documentary can boost staff morale, reputation, and play a role in recruitment, argues Pippa Harper

At St George’s, we are regularly approached to host or take part in documentaries. It’s a good problem to have, thanks to Channel 4’s 24 Hours in A&E – which we have hosted since 2014 – and, more recently, Baby Surgeons: Delivering Miracles.

In my experience, the positives far outweigh the negatives, but it’s important to be selective on what you take forward; they require a huge time resource, and it has to be right for staff, patients, and the wider organisation. It also has to be about more than just ‘being on the telly’.

Why should we consider documentaries?

The right documentary can boost staff morale, the organisation’s reputation and play a huge role in recruitment, too.

But you can also use the platform to inform and influence public opinion, win the hearts and minds of viewers and raise awareness of important and often challenging topics.

That’s why, when Wonderhood Studios got in touch about creating a three-part series on surgery in the womb led by our talented clinical teams, we were quick to recognise the opportunities it presented.

It aligned with our clinical priorities, but we also knew it would make fascinating television following a service that is constantly evolving and innovating.

As part of this, we wanted to help break the silence surrounding baby loss. Despite being in the year 2021, there is still stigma attached to it, even though one in four pregnancies sadly ends in loss.

Impact and maximisation

Baby Surgeons publicity gained 257 pieces of media coverage, equating to a reach of 257m and an advertising value equivalent of £3.27m. Each episode averaged 1.4m viewers and our live-tweeting resulted in 1.2m impressions across the 15-day broadcast period.

The documentary has since been shortlisted for a prestigious Grierson Award.

The biggest achievement, however, is that Channel 4 and Wonderhood are launching pregnancy loss policies to support staff going through such experiences and calling for others to do the same.

This is a perfect example of how a documentary series can actively help to create meaningful change.

Similarly, a 24 Hours in A&E collaboration with the British Heart Foundation gained 62 per cent more text donations in one night than they typically receive in a month of TV fundraising.

Likewise, an episode of BBC’s Hospital at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital featuring organ donation led to more than 1300 people joining the organ donation register, compared to only 60 people the previous day.

These examples are impressive and we, as public sector communicators, should use them as inspiration when assessing documentary proposals to see if there is scope to mirror such positive change through the power of documentary storytelling.


Often, documentaries are overlooked as being too time-intensive but, while there are always issues to navigate, when a documentary works for all concerned, they have the potential to support internal and external communications strategies in arguably the most powerful and impactful way possible.

This isn’t to say that other areas of communications aren’t important – far from it – but documentaries do too.

Pippa Harper is media manager at St George's University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

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