Richard Smith: The town that gave up medicine

Richard SmithHow would you like to be part of a television programme provisionally entitled “The town that gave up medicine”? The programme will be made by a company called Films of Record , which has an impressive pedigree, and shown on Channel 4. In some ways this is a programme about medicalisation, but you can imagine that it may be hard to make a compelling and original programme with simply aging worthies like me pontificating away.

Films of Record have thus come up with what strikes me as the exciting idea of finding a town and a group of doctors and leaders who are interested in using less medicine, particularly around normal, healthy activities like giving birth and dying. It will be both an experiment and a sort of reality television programme.

It strikes me that the proposed programme fits with fashionable ideas like the Big Society and the need for the NHS to save £20 billion in the next four years and to start reducing its huge carbon footprint. It might even be that an emerging GP consortium would like to take up the challenge. The company has already made contact with groups of professionals like midwives who are willing to support communities in trying to consume less medicine. The big challenge is to find some GPs and a community (probably of about 15 000) who are willing to “have a go.”

Those who lead the project will need to be enthusiastic, but not everybody has to be keen. Indeed, it will make better and more credible television if some start sceptical, particularly if the experiment “succeeds,” and they are won round. Exactly how it will all work is not yet clear, which gives anybody interested a chance to shape both the project and the programme. Films of Record will initiate the project and might provide a facilitator, and they will film the beginning and then return at regular intervals over something like two years. If you are interested to find out more and possibly participate contact Richard Wyllie at

Competing interest: RS has had several conversations and meetings with Films of Record but hasn’t been paid anything. He is keen on the idea of the programme and might be involved in some way. If he did do something active he might be paid, but he won’t be paid for anything he has done so far, including writing this blog.

Richard Smith was the editor of the BMJ until 2004.