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Carol Weaver feels she performs a high-wire balancing act. She is answerable to everyone from politicians to patients to prima donna consultants, and from judges to journalists - and she has to juggle waiting lists, crumbling buildings, low morale, ever-increasing cuts... with her conscience as well as her budget. Carol is also a mother and a wife.

Sounds familiar? That's because Carol Weaver, the heroine of a new BBC Radio 4 drama about the NHS, is a trust chief executive. That's right, not a doctor, but a health service manager, and a likeable, sympathetic character to boot.

Smoky-voiced, idealistic, tough-but-sensitive, Ms Weaver handles the visiting MP, placates a mutinous cardiologist, sorts out planning permission for car park security cameras, and deals with an angry patient demanding his cataract operation. And that's all in the first 15-minute episode.

She does her job, it should be noted, with grace, charm, and a Yorkshire accent dripping with integrity and commitment. Not a whiff of the arrogant, bureaucratic, scheming NHS manager stereotype so beloved of TV and radio drama.

Series creator Kate Rowland explains: 'I don't think managers are like their stereotypes. A lot of people in the NHS are caring and committed. I'm sure there's some very masculine, very arrogant types out there but I wanted to look at things differently, and change the debate.'

She adds: 'I believe that you wouldn't work in this business if you didn't care. If you work in the public service there has to be a part of you that is passionate about making things better.'

Ms Rowland says that what particularly fascinated her - not least because she herself is a senior manager in a public service organisation, the BBC - were the competing problems facing Carol as she balances work and home pressures.

Carol, she says, is committed, passionate, and has an acute sense of serving her community. She is also 'not so good at home' and relies a lot on her partner. In one scene her child is ill, but she goes to work because she feels 'her' patients are more ill.

Ms Rowland was keen to get away from the 'doctors and nurses' centred drama of Casualty and its ilk. 'Like most people I was interested in hospitals and thought I knew to a degree what goes on. But all we ever see is the crashing trolleys, the Casualty side of things.

'For me, what is fascinating is the process of management because that affects life and death as much as anything else. Once you start researching, you find it phenomenal what people do - not just the chief executive, but the whole management team.'

Although the series was extensively researched in a number of hospitals, a key influence was undoubtedly Ms Rowland's sister - Hilary Rowland, chief executive of Royal Liverpool Children's Hospital trust - who, like Carol, holds down a demanding job and has a young son.

HiIary Rowland says she hasn't heard the tape, but hopes it will squash some misconceptions about NHS managers. 'Jobs like mine are fascinating; every day is different. People think it's about sitting at a desk; they don't understand the variety and scope and impact the job has.

'I do hope it puts a different perspective. I believe I have as much passion and commitment about the service as my clinicians. If it does bring that over it will be a good thing.'

Creating the drama was an eye-opener for Kate Rowland. She was shocked by the high profile of medical negligence, by the importance attached to PR and the negativity of the press.

The importance to the NHS of - to the outsider - apparently mundane issues also struck her. 'Fraud and security issues were very important. And car parking. At first I thought: 'Car parking?' But it's a major issue.'

NHS jargon was also a poser. 'We found it difficult to know whether to use the jargon or ignore it. We are in a world where there's so much jargon that the lack of plain English is a problem and it's quite alienating,' she says.

The preview tape shows that they didn't ignore the jargon, and at times the drama almost wilts under its mission to explain primary care groups, national service frameworks, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, and the NHS human resources strategy.

And while Carol Weaver is a strong, original character, others are two- dimensional.

The trust chair, in particular, is the stuff of cliche. 'I made him one of those gruff Yorkshire mill owners; everybody is faffing around, he gets in there and sorts it out with a few well-chosen words,' explains actor Duncan Preston.

But it is fast-paced, and if it can shrug off the sense of training video clunkiness - 'I'm very keen to see how the new national service framework is taking effect,' demands the visiting MP, almost before he has taken his coat off - it could become quite addictive.

'I hope we get the balance right between the detail and the emotional side,' says Kate Rowland. 'It's a hard one to get right. But the one thing that drives me is to make drama that counts. It has to matter in some way.' See comment, page 15.