Malpractice Season 1 Review – A tightly plotted, damning NHS drama

April 25, 2023
Jonathon Wilson 0
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Malpractice is a tightly plotted drama that might strain credulity towards the end, but it still provides a damningly well-observed portrait of the NHS and post-pandemic healthcare.

This review of the ITV series Malpractice Season 1 does not contain spoilers.

The Covid-19 pandemic was a seismic enough cultural event that there was a world before it and a world after, and the two are barely alike.

Post-pandemic entertainment is, similarly, distinct from pre-pandemic, especially in certain countries or across certain genres. An ITV/ITVX medical drama titled Malpractice, set in a West Yorkshire hospital, and focusing on a floundering NHS beset by overworking, underfunding, and – eventually, across five episodes – an outright conspiracy, was inevitably going to be informed by the pandemic in one way or another.

But the series, written by Grace Ofori-Attah with a finely observed sense of detail stemming from a decade of experience in the NHS but a surprising amount of dramatic complexity for a TV debut, isn’t so much about the pandemic as, again, informed by it. The day-to-operations of the National Health Service occur, inevitably, in its specter, as the ramifications continue to be felt in layered and often unexpected ways.

Malpractice Season 1 review and plot summary

The surface-level plot of Malpractice is, as the title implies, focused on a tragic and preventable loss of life that warrants an investigation into the competency of Lucinda Edwards (Niamh Algar), an A&E doctor who is forced to hand an overdose victim off to an inexperienced junior doctor whose inability to follow Lucinda’s instructions results in the young woman’s death.

But there’s more to it. The incredibly tense premiere highlights the NHS buckling under the strain of unavoidable circumstances. A&E is teeming, Lucinda can’t be in two places at once, an incident with a gunman and a gunshot victim demands immediate attention, and the young woman, Edith, falls through the cracks. These things happen.

But Edith’s father is adamant that negligence is to blame. Were Lucinda’s instructions to the junior, Ramya (Priyanka Patel), clear? Was Ramya too inexperienced to be in that position in the first place, and if so, after 18 months, why hadn’t she been adequately trained? Why did Lucinda change Edith’s notes to rule her suicide as deliberate rather than accidental? Why did she respond so hostilely to the mistake?

It’s a lot to take in, and as the episodes progress, it quickly becomes clear that Malpractice is as much a thriller as it is a medical drama, or even an examination of post-pandemic conditions in the NHS. Lucinda, under investigation herself, begins conducting her own inquiries, and the show itself interrogates the precise circumstances that led to and facilitated Edith’s untimely demise.

Is Malpractice good or bad?

Malpractice, thankfully, never becomes preachy. It has a frank understanding of the strain the NHS is under thanks to Ofori-Attah’s first-hand experience, and it isn’t afraid to call out what is causing that strain, but it’s also careful not to point the finger too directly. All its characters are flawed, sometimes unlikeable, and forced to navigate a broken system in their own way.

Those flaws are especially paramount since the tension of the series rests on a relatively simple question – was negligence the cause of Edith’s death? – exposing how impossible it is to provide a simple answer in the face of unprecedented public health crises, corruption, biases, bureaucracy, and the reticence of anyone involved to assume personal responsibility.

Is Malpractice worth watching?

In a series that offers no easy answers and threatens to veer – especially towards the end – into the realms of made-for-TV claptrap, it’s refreshing for the underlying point to remain so coherent. People, even doctors, are fallible. Mistakes happen, and sometimes people die because of them. But this is the price we pay for a near-inhuman healthcare system that must still necessarily be staffed by human beings; that expects those who run it to bend without breaking under the weight of private interest and social collapse.

As unrealistic as some of the late-game twists might be, the most implausible thing of all is the idea that there isn’t more truth here than any of us would like to admit.

What did you think of Malpractice Season 1? Comment below.

You can watch this series with a subscription to ITVX.

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