Over four evenings in May 2009, 3.5m viewers tuned into Channel 4 to watch ‘The Operation: Surgery Live’. This pioneering broadcast project took television viewers live into the operating theatre to watch leading surgeons perform life-saving operations, including brain and open-heart surgery. The four surgeons - who routinely talk medical students through procedures during operations - answered questions from the public while they worked.
A live video link from the operating theatre was played to a full house at the Wellcome Collection auditorium each evening. The evenings were hosted by Channel 4's Krishnan Guru-Murthy, with a second surgeon on hand to answer questions when the operating surgeon was too busy.
Funded by a Wellcome Trust People Award, the collaboration between the Wellcome Trust, Channel 4 and Windfall Films, an independent production company, built on the popularity of 'Live Surgery' - two events held at Wellcome Collection in 2007, in which the audience watched open-heart surgery live via a satellite link.
'The Operation: Surgery Live' aimed to expose a wider audience to modern surgery, remove some of the mystique surrounding it, and inspire young people to consider careers in surgery. A special area on Channel 4's website encouraged visitors to set up discussion groups on Facebook and Twitter. Viewers at home could put questions about the procedures to the surgical team during the broadcasts by phone, email and Twitter.
More than 5000 people joined the Facebook group, while the Twitter group was the leading 'trending topic' by the final night. Users are continuing to debate medical issues, to which clinical practitioners have spontaneously participated.
'The Operation' was just one of the innovative events and exhibitions organised by Wellcome Collection during the year. History, science, medicine and art were juxtaposed in a series of imaginative and critically praised exhibitions, including ‘War and Medicine’ ("historically fascinating, scientifically informative and ethically challenging" - Rachel Campbell-Johnston, the ‘Times’) and ‘Exquisite Bodies’ ("I greatly enjoyed this exhibition and regret only that it is not twice the size" - Brian Sewell, ‘Evening Standard’).
Image: Channel 4's Krishnan Guru-Murthy prepares for Surgery Live