Play Hard

Sunday sit-down with… the cast of Channel 4’s Geordie Hospital

We catch up with some of the hard-working ladies from the Newcastle NHS Trust that we get to meet in Episode 1 of the new series tomorrow – plus their adorable four-legged colleague.

Written by Rachael Nichol
Published 14.01.2022

After facing an incredibly tough two years with the pandemic, it’s about time our Newcastle NHS staff got some recognition for their dedicated work risking their lives on the front line.

And Channel 4, with Curve Media, is doing just that by bringing everyone from porters to surgeons and hospital chaplains to the staff wellbeing pooch onto our TV screens with their new series, Geordie Hospital, starting at 8pm on Monday 17th January.

The six-part documentary follows Newcastle-based staff through a shift of saving and transforming lives, all with the added touch of that well-known Geordie warmth and a good sense of humour.

So, what can we expect from the first episode tomorrow? Everything, pretty much. From Children’s Heart Consultant Emma changing the device that’s powering four-year-old Kit’s mechanical heart to one which allows him to leave the hospital grounds for the first time in months, to Consultant Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon Isma removing a tumour from 76-year-old Terry which has been damaging his eyesight, we’ll see a bit of everything that goes on in these wards.

Which is why we caught up with some of the hardworking women who are staring in the show to find out what it was like to become TV stars from their day jobs as real-life superheroes…

Miss Isma Iqbal, Consultant ENT Surgeon

Isma Iqbal started working at Newcastle Hospitals in 2005, where she did her foundation and specialist training, and has been a consultant for two years.

She treats all kinds of conditions affecting the ear, nose and throat at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital. Still, Isma has a particular interest in rhinology (nose and sinus problems) and anterior skull base surgery (treating conditions deep in the nasal cavity and sinuses), using non-invasive techniques instead of open surgery.

‘The satisfaction you feel when you’ve changed someone’s life for the better is an amazing feeling,’ says Isma. ‘I enjoy working here as everyone is really friendly, helpful and basically like an extended family. I’ve had some fantastic mentors and colleagues here, which makes me feel like I work in a supportive environment.

‘I’m glad I took part in the series as, hopefully, I will send the message that surgery is for anyone who has the passion, discipline and determination to go for it. I hope that women, particularly from the BAME community, will be inspired to pursue a career in surgery.’

Dr Emma Simpson, Consultant in Children’s Cardiovascular Intensive Care Medicine

Emma has worked at Newcastle Hospitals for the last seven years and leads children’s ventricular assisted device (VAD) services. Emma and her colleagues work to reduce the stress and impact of long-term hospitalisation on children and their families by offering them mobility and autonomy in their daily lives in the hospital environment.

Working with some of the world’s experts in caring for children with VAD, Newcastle was pivotal in bringing the mobile Berlin Heart driving unit (the Berlin Heart Excor ACTIVE™️) to market. In one episode, we get to meet patient Kitt, who was waiting for a heart transplant last summer and became one of the UK’s first patients to have the portable device fitted, enabling him to leave hospital grounds for the first time in months.

Emma and the team also won the 2020 Horizon Impact Award for their project ‘Mobile Autonomy for Children in End-stage Heart Failure’ (MACH), which celebrates outstanding EU-funded projects that have used their results to provide value for society across Europe and beyond.

 Abbey Johnson, Dental Nurse

After being treated for anorexia in Darlington Hospital, it wasn’t until the occupational therapist caring for Abbey said to her: ‘you have nice teeth – what about dentistry?’ that she started to explore the idea.

Abbey joined the dental team as an apprentice eight years ago and, after 18 months, she qualified as a dental nurse and has never looked back. She describes herself as a ‘people person’ and loves to come to work. In her words: ‘it isn’t about the teeth, it’s about the people.’

‘I get a huge sense of gratification from making people smile and laugh,’ says Abbey. ‘People are sometimes scared when they come in for treatment, but my job is done when they leave happy. Working in the NHS has opened my eyes and given me opportunities that I didn’t know about.

‘It’s nice to see apprentices come through the doors now. The NHS helped me a lot and a part of me wanted to give back. Without the NHS, I would definitely be in a worse situation.’

Reverend Captain Katie Watson, Head of Chaplaincy

After joining the Army at the age of 18 in 1992, Katie completed two operational tours to Bosnia and Croatia during the genocide. She was deployed as a searcher Corporal in Northern Ireland and was selected to attend the commissioning course at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst before she was commissioned in August 1997 and returned to the RMP.

In 2002, Katie left the army and trained with  Humberside Probation service before starting ordination training. She joined the Newcastle team in 2007 on a long placement and in her own words, ‘forgot to leave’. She was appointed as Head of Chaplaincy for the Trust in 2020.

‘I enjoy working within a Trust that is so diverse and forward thinking,’ Katie says. ‘No two days are ever the same, which means I never know what a shift is going to bring. I spend a lot of my time journeying alongside patients, relatives and staff, whether on the wards or in the chapel of rest.

‘I have the privilege of being with people at the very best and the very worst of times. I enjoy coming to work every day and I’m proud to be a part of a team that values and supports me. Getting the chance to show people what hospital chaplaincy is actually about, as opposed to what people think we do, was great.’

Poppy Jingles, Staff Welfare Hound

And the star of the show has to be Poppy, a nine-year-old Springer Spaniel. At about six weeks old, she was rescued from an unsuitable home and came to live with her family ‘just until the shelters clear’ two days before Christmas. Nine years on, she is still with the same family – which includes Katie, Head of Chaplaincy.

Poppy started working at Newcastle Hospitals nearly four years ago and her ‘pleased to see you’ approach to work is now legendary. The only time she goes faster than a gentle amble is when she has her work vest and ID card put on her.

She conducts ‘pat and chat’ and ‘mooch with the pooch’ sessions for staff who need some care and wellbeing time. A natural with those in distress, she’s an adored and popular team member across the Trust sites, including the restaurant at the Freeman Hospital, whose black pudding she is particularly fond of at chaplaincy team breakfasts.

Poppy was ‘furryloughed’ during the pandemic but is now back at work and looking towards the future and the vital role she fulfils. Poppy is currently showing an apprentice – a 20-week Labrador puppy called Fern – the ropes, who has started to visit the hospitals alongside her.


Geordie Hospital starts Monday 17th January on Channel 4 and will be available as a boxset on All4 after episode 1. Watch here.

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