The NHS Choir’s Christmas Single Is Propaganda Worthy Of North Korea

If you buy the NHS Choir’s mediocre Christmas ditty you are part of the problem, not the solution

Imagine that a large, critical government department was gradually but incessantly becoming less and less fit for purpose.

Suppose that (say) HM Revenue & Customs suffered from major failures of management and leadership, an outdated structure, a confused remit and an ever-increasing list of responsibilities coupled with constantly changing priorities. What should be done?

Was your first thought the idea that a group of HMRC employees should get together and release a song with the hope of reaching the Christmas No. 1 slot in the charts? Did you think – in a moment of epiphany – that recording a Christmas song would in any way address the issues with that organisation, or that any public goodwill generated by the song would somehow make the various deep-rooted organisational problems and resource constraints melt away?

Probably not. You would most likely want to see some kind of hard-headed, evidence-based action plan to turn things around, not a cheesy song that pretended everything was great. But this “sing your problems away” approach is exactly what is happening today, not with HMRC but rather with the NHS. And now we are all being asked to allow ourselves to be swept up in the self-deception, mindlessly tweeting our support for an organisation – and model of healthcare delivery – which becomes more out of its depth and more inadequate to our needs with every passing day.

From the Metro:

The Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir are leading the in way in the race for the 2015 Christmas Number one, as the battle to secure the top spot heats up.

According to initial reports from the Official Charts Company, the choir’s track A Bridge Over You – a mash-up of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water and Coldplay’s Fix You – is currently ahead of rivals Justin Bieber and Louisa Johnson.

But with the track leading the way by just under 5,000 sales, it’s still looking likely to be a three way race for the top spot.

The NHS choir could also receive a boost following the release of the accompanying video earlier this week.

That video is the one shown at the top of this piece.

Of course, this whole stunt is really more of an opportunity for cheap virtue signalling of our enlightened, progressive credentials than a meaningful contribution to the healthcare debate, or even a sincere “thank you” to healthcare staff working over the Christmas period.

That much is evident from the flurry of self-promoting tweets gathering under the hashtag #NHS4XmasNo1:

But this piece of lazy, self-congratulatory, virtue-signalling NHS worship is nothing to be proud of and certainly not something which any engaged and informed citizen should support.

Why? A couple of reasons:

1. First of all, it’s a poor piece of music making. It’s a bad mashup, even by the low standards of most mashups. It takes one timeless classic (the Simon & Garfunkel) and one decent contemporary song (the Coldplay) and unimaginitively smooshes them together in a way which somehow manages to destroy or obfuscate the best of both pieces.

But of course, we can’t possibly acknowledge this fact, because:

2. Second, the video is emotionally manipulative twaddle, yet more unthinking pro-NHS propaganda of the kind that will ensure Britain’s healthcare system continues to lurch, unreformed, from crisis to crisis for another seventy years. And the fact that the propaganda is produced not by government diktat but by zealous citizens who believe they are working for the Greater Good only makes it all the more insidious.

“Aren’t NHS workers wonderful?”, the video asks us to ponder. Yes, I suppose so, but no more so than those who work for HM Revenue & Customs. Both perform a vital service, and both draw a government paycheque at cost to the taxpayer. And yet we all know that if George Osborne’s Treasury barbershop ensemble released an album of Christmas classics it would already be festering in bargain bins and languishing at the very bottom of the charts.

When it comes to “our NHS” (genuflect), on the other hand, we can’t stop proclaiming our love for it. And doing so very publicly, just so that everyone else can see what a good, progressive little person we are. But by lapping up these hymns to the NHS, we simply encourage people with sinister agendas to create even more of them in future.

Thus, over five tedious minutes of this particular pseudo-inspirational dirge, we are treated to scenes of saintly NHS workers helping wobbly old people stand up from chairs, therapists teaching amputees how to walk again, premature babies being nursed to health, and other everyday scenes of hospital life. Are these heartwarming scenes? Sure they are. Are they unique to the NHS? Hell no.

“What other organisation but the NHS could possibly do any these things?”, screams the message from the video. After all, we all know that old people, premature babies and the disabled are simply thrown into woodchipping machines and disposed of in other advanced countries without an NHS. Only in Britain with “our NHS” (genuflect) do people receive healthcare free at the point of use.

Except that none of that is true. Britain is not an island of enlightened compassion in a sea of cruelty and denied cancer treatments. And precisely zero countries are knocking on our front door and sending in their experts to learn about how we organise healthcare in this country so that they can replicate our system back at home. Shouldn’t that maybe tell us something, and cause us to take a pause from the incessant, self-satisfied boasting?

NHS - NHS4XmasNo1 - Worship - Guilt Tripping
Emotional blackmail / NHS propaganda


This isn’t an attack on NHS workers. It’s not even an attack on the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir, even though their unremarkable song no more deserves to be Christmas No. 1 than will the next inevitable re-release of “Feed the World”.

This is an attack on our unthinking, embarrassing commitment to the NHS model, our apparent desire as a nation to worship what is in fact an immensely powerful government department, and the sanctimonious belief that by propelling this mediocre song to the top of the charts in time for Christmas we are making any positive contribution toward the future of British healthcare (beyond the admittedly welcome charitable donation).

We can sing songs about the NHS until we are blue in the face (and the number of songs is growing – how long until they coin an official anthem?), but it will do nothing to change the fact that a centralised model of state-funded and state-delivered healthcare designed in the post-war 1940s is highly unlikely to be the optimal solution in the year 2015.

Singing songs in praise of Aneurin Bevan’s rusting creation will do nothing to address the cold, hard truth that rising life expectancies and the continual developments of new, expensive treatments can only be tackled by an unreformed NHS if there are immediate, dramatic increases in personal taxation. For everyone, not just the Evil Bankers, of whom there are sadly not enough.

But sure, let’s make the NHS Choir song the number 1 Christmas single. Then let’s all sit back and smugly reflect on what right-on, progressive people we are for spurning Simon Cowell’s latest manufactured hit-by-numbers offering in favour of doctors and nurses who sing in their spare time. Let’s keep pretending that we alone, of all nations, stumbled upon the optimal way to deliver top quality healthcare to a growing, ageing population, back when we were still digging ourselves out of the rubble of World War 2.

It’s ironic. The NHS Choir is warbling away about “trying to fix” us this Christmas, when it is hagiographic stunts like this which mean we may never summon the political will required to fix (or replace) the NHS.

NHS Worship - London Olympic Games 1

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20 thoughts on “The NHS Choir’s Christmas Single Is Propaganda Worthy Of North Korea

  1. Pingback: Je suis Tory scum
  2. politicalfutbol December 23, 2015 / 10:20 AM

    Come on Sam. You can do better than this. Your whole argument seems based on the ‘totemistic’ position the NHS has in the hearts of Leftist ‘Virtue Signallers’. The NHS is no more a totem of the left than the Armed Forces are to the right. The NHS choir is only walking a path well trodden by Gary Barlow and the Military Wives choir.

    In most people’s eyes NHS reform is nessecarry and would be welcomed, but it’s the basic principles of universal healthcare offered regardless of status, free at the point of use that the Left want to preserve.

    Like schools and Public services, the argument that the business model of the NHS creaking under the weight of it’s users is a massive false flag. All three have been subject to massive staff and/or funding cuts that leave those of us left struggling to maintain an effective service while more and more levels of inefficient management are built over our heads.

    All this feeds into the public perception that the service is wasteful, failing and needs (further) private intervention, when in fact most are overperforming given the huge pressure they are forced to work under.

    I agree the single is of low quality, as are all such charity records, but it’s role seems to be not to push the boundaries of popular music, rather to lead a fightback against what is percieved by those on the frontline to be a willful and systematic attack on the basic principles of the NHS.

    We may agree that how we deliver these needs to change, but for me, there is no question. We do need to deliver them.


    • Samuel Hooper December 23, 2015 / 5:16 PM

      Many thanks for reading, and for your comments.

      You make an interesting comparison between the position the NHS holds in the hearts of the Left and that occupied by the Armed Forces in the hearts of the Right.

      We have now had a Conservative government in power for over 5 years. How has the Right’s supposed love of the military helped protect our Navy from savage cuts that leave us without aircraft carrier capacity for the first time since the Second World War? Or the RAF without the ability to monitor and defend our coastline? Or seen all three branches of the service face significant personnel cuts, the combined effect of which leaves many defence analysts to state that Britain’s military / defensive capacity has been decreased by a whole third compared to at the time of the Iraq war? I’m not sure that right wing groupthink on defence is having much of an impact on government policy. How many warships did Gary Barlow’s single save from the scrapheap?

      Health, however, is a different story entirely. You mention “massive staff and/or funding cuts” but neglect to acknowledge that the NHS budget has been ringfenced and increased in real terms since 2010, and was massively expanded over and above inflation in the years from 1997 onwards. Are you seriously suggesting that the government is at fault for failing to lavish the NHS with significant above-inflation funding increases, year on year, until it consumes…what, a third of government spending? Half? Three quarters? Where do we stop? I’m sorry, but the figures simply do not bear out the idea that the Evil Tories are starving the NHS of funds to deliberately cause it to fail – unless, that is, one considers the refusal to provide a blank chequebook from the taxpayer to the NHS a sin.

      You write “we may agree that how we deliver these needs to change, but for me, there is no question. We do need to deliver them”, but who is disputing the fact that we need to provide healthcare? I certainly did not do so in my piece. There are many models of universal healthcare provision out there which do not involve a central, government-owned and operated monopoly doing everything by default. Almost no other country adopts the NHS model, and several countries regularly achieve better healthcare outcomes.

      And it is precisely the fact that we worship the NHS (truly it is our secular national religion in Britain) that we can’t talk about different ways to provide healthcare free at the point of use. Woe betide any politician who says anything besides praising doctors and nurses and pledging more money. Government-provided healthcare (with the government actively owning and operating hospitals and clinics) makes healthcare an unnecessarily political issue, to the detriment of everything else we need to address in our society.

      W can’t even look at other healthcare systems and best practice from overseas, because the public is *not* only concerned about healthcare free at the point of use. They are also whipped up into a frenzy (yes, by virtue-signalling lefties mostly) to instinctively hate the thought of private provision of any health service, and to believe that the profit motive and good quality are somehow inevitably an oxymoron in the healthcare sector (yet great everywhere else). It is quite simply impossible to talk about making anything but the tiniest tweaks to our existing system without stepping on one of the many landmines the Left (and some on the supposed Right) have laid throughout the healthcare debate, and this Christmas song only contributes to this aura that the NHS is some saintly vessel handed down from our forefathers, which we cannot possibly change. People are buying and sharing it thinking that they are helping, and yes, the charities who receive the proceeds will be very grateful. But must this come at the expense of ever having a real debate about healthcare in Britain?

      The Left’s greatest victory has been to make it so that “the NHS” and “healthcare” mean one and the same thing in the eyes of most British people, just as the American Left successfully conflated the terms “immigrant” and “illegal immigrant” so that it became impossible to talk about immigration without sounding racist and alienating legitimate immigrant groups. Any attack on the NHS is seen as proof that the Bad People want to take away your healthcare and leave you to die on the streets. It’s a magnificent achievement by the priests of the NHS – they have placed their idol on a pedestal so high that none of us can criticise it, change it or make it better.


      • politicalfutbol December 23, 2015 / 7:43 PM

        I agree that the NHS is a hotter political potato than it needs to be, but I can’t see how greater private sector involvement can help.

        It may be that we differ in our opinion of the welfare state and personal taxation altogether, because I honestly can’t think of anything I’d rather my taxes went to pay for than cradle to grave health care and a strong safety net to catch me or my family should something awful happen. For me, I think that we, as a country, need to grow up when it comes to taxation and accept that there are times when we all need to contribute a little more, rather than denuding public services.

        This is where the NHS settlement is misleading. I work in the (non-NHS) public sector and over the last 5 years I have seen vast monies spent on ‘efficiencies’. Private IT and telecoms outsourcing that doesn’t work, the take up of expensive lease clauses to close offices, investment in remote working that’s not fit for purpose, and of course the obligatory redundancy packages.

        They all get tacked onto the year on year spend masking the comparable drop in real frontline resources. It’s a cheap magician’s distraction and if you don’t think it’s happening in the NHS, speak to one of the thousands of Doctors or Nurses who have abandoned it in recent years because they’ve been pushed past their point of tolerence.

        Overspending on private contractors, agency staff and cynically overpriced medicines and equipment has seen increasingly vast sums of public money flow straight to Big Pharma and corporate behemoths like Capita, ATOS and Virgin with a healthy chunk never to be seen or reinvested again.

        Most of all though I humbug your Christmas humbuggery. You make a strong and valid political case but tacking it to this cause is churlish. Nobody is seriously suggesting that the NHS choir is going to change anything. They are raising awareness, possibly unnessecarily as you suggest, for their cause, and good luck to them.

        Just as long as we don’t have to listen to it.

        Have a great Christmas, Sam.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Samuel Hooper December 23, 2015 / 10:37 PM

          I’ll have to go away and research what you said about wasteful one-off spending being tacked onto year-on-year spend to mask real cuts. I can well imagine that such a thing takes place – after all, this is a government which intends to meet its NATO commitment of spending 2% of GDP on defence by reclassifying ever-more ludicrous expenditures as being defence-related. Clearly fiscal chicanery of this kind does take place – it would be good if the OBR was empowered to scrutinise legislation and spending and call out these deceptions when they occur.

          As I said on Twitter, I think a lot of the problems with private provision of public services are a result of bad governance. Contracts are awarded under dubious circumstances by unaccountable politicians and bureaucrats, with decisions often tainted by the revolving door between Westminster and the lobbyists. This happens with all political parties, and has unfairly tarnished the reputation of private provision.

          I’m not saying that the NHS should be 100% privatised. I’m not even necessarily against taxpayer funded universal healthcare coverage. But I do think that clinging rigidly to the NHS’s near 100% state provision model (one not adopted by any other major country) simply because we made some half-hearted attempts at private provision which inevitably failed in the past (through lack of planning, accountability and governance) is misguided.

          That being said, I’ll call an end to the Christmas humbuggery for now. I still think that the embrace of the NHS Christmas song is being used by people as an opportunity to feel good about themselves while ignoring a serious, festering issue – but I’ll pick it up in 2016!

          Wishing you a very Merry Christmas too, and many thanks for reading and for your thoughtful comments.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Amar December 20, 2015 / 11:22 PM

    I don’t disagree with your reply.

    Junior doctors, for example, were 15 hours away from industrial action only this month because the Secretary of State refused to sit down to discuss a reasoned and rational approach to contract changes. Hellbent on chasing soundbites and headlines instead of meaningful progress in modifying the health service in co-ordination with those who try to deliver it day in day out, leaves governments throwing vast sums of money at schemes and ideologies with little backbone or longevity. Future models of healthcare need to be discussed and debated to meet the demands of the population but they are not going to occur through unilateral thinking and slogans devised in Westminster. To express this point, however, I think you could have chosen any piece of cleverly manipulated, PR spun rhetoric from the current Secretary of State for Healthy (e.g. “7 day NHS”, “weekend effect”) rather than the very earnest and heartfelt efforts of my colleagues producing a, relatively, apolitical charity single in the hope of doing something positive. Nonetheless, thank you for taking the time to clarify the true target of your article, and replying to my comments.


  4. Amar December 20, 2015 / 9:54 PM

    What a bizarre article. You seem to suggest that this is propaganda spun by the NHS PR team, Health Secretary or managers attempting to pull the wool over the public’s eyes that the NHS is a perfect, wonderful system that should never be criticised. Far from it! This whole campaign has been the tireless efforts of shop-floor staff and kind members of the public who want to keep the NHS vivid in the public consciousness to remind politicians that front line services in this country are valued and respected; something which they seem to fail to demonstrate themselves.

    This has been an incredibly politically active year for the NHS and it seems that every month front line staff are having to battle parliamentary policies which continue to undermine and devalue the healthcare system, making it harder and harder for staff to deliver the level of care we want to be able to give every single patient. A chronically underfunded system is being squeezed tighter and tighter every day and where we are seeing regular sales of NHS services to the private sector without so much as a headline we have to fight with every tool in our armory to keep the country’s passion for the NHS alive. It is a wonderful service and achieves great things for thousands of people every day and, contrary to your article, NHS funded research and expertise certainly do lead the way on the global stage in many areas of medicine.

    I fully appreciate that trying to get a single to number one may seem like an odd and very easy to attack technique for trying to boost morale amongst NHS staff. But if it makes them feel like the uphill struggle is not all in vain and sits among the protests, the industrial action, the petitions, the lobbying, the negotiations, the public meetings and campaigning for a better service to offer patients, it seems to be a pretty harmless gesture that may make a few people feel a little better this year. I’m sorry you disagree so vehemently that you have decided to publish an entire article filled with spiteful and hateful language but please consider your enemy and perhaps re-consider what good will come from the words that you write.

    Kind regards and genuinely wishing you a Merry Christmas and all the best for the New Year,

    An exhausted and just happy to have a feeling that makes me smile Children’s A&E Doctor.


    • Samuel Hooper December 20, 2015 / 11:08 PM

      Many thanks for commenting, and for the Christmas wishes. As I stated in the piece, my “spite” is in no way directed at NHS staff members and the people who work hard to deliver healthcare. It is very much aimed at spineless politicians who refuse to accept and tell difficult truths about how Britain’s unique healthcare system, designed for a different age in the 1940s, is failing to keep up with the pace of change.

      While I appreciate and admire those who work in the healthcare sector, I sincerely believe that Britain’s mindless adoration of the NHS is now doing more harm than good. It locks us into the misplaced arrogance of thinking that our system is the only good or “moral” one in the world, and prevents us from properly examining alternatives.

      Look what happens when anyone pokes their head above the parapet and suggests that maybe Britain should move to a different healthcare model. They are shouted down, demonised and utterly eviscerated by cynical politicians and vested interests – including many NHS workers. Many advanced countries deliver excellent healthcare to their citizens using models other than an NHS state monopoly, and some of them even do so with privatised elements. None of the lifesaving new drugs we now use were developed by a state-owned, taxpayer funded R&D company, rather it was private enterprise and the profit motivation under which they are created and produced. Why then should the vast majority of Britain’s healthcare delivery fall under the nationalised NHS? Unfortunately, we can’t even begin to talk about these things because the NHS, like any large organisation, has a strong survival instinct and resists change. The NHS is one of the biggest employers in the world, therefore the resistance to change is immense. This does not contribute to a healthy debate, in fact it stifles freedom and creativity.

      The Christmas single may be a relatively harmless gesture on the face of it, and I don’t doubt the good intentions of the NHS Choir members who created and performed the song. But it contributes to the unhealthy, worshipful aura surrounding the NHS, which – like I say – has long ago crossed the line from being a mere point of pride in Britain to something verging on the sinister. Just my opinion.

      Also, I would add that strongly held, contradictory opinions are not “spiteful”, not do they constitute hate speech. It’s just a sincere difference of opinion and worldview. There is real racism and bigotry out there in the world. Let’s not lump honest political differences into the mix.

      Wishing you a very Merry Christmas too.


      • Amar December 20, 2015 / 11:23 PM

        Amar says:
        December 20, 2015 at 11:22 PM
        I don’t disagree with your reply.

        Junior doctors, for example, were 15 hours away from industrial action only this month because the Secretary of State refused to sit down to discuss a reasoned and rational approach to contract changes. Hellbent on chasing soundbites and headlines instead of meaningful progress in modifying the health service in co-ordination with those who try to deliver it day in day out, leaves governments throwing vast sums of money at schemes and ideologies with little backbone or longevity. Future models of healthcare need to be discussed and debated to meet the demands of the population but they are not going to occur through unilateral thinking and slogans devised in Westminster. To express this point, however, I think you could have chosen any piece of cleverly manipulated, PR spun rhetoric from the current Secretary of State for Healthy (e.g. “7 day NHS”, “weekend effect”) rather than the very earnest and heartfelt efforts of my colleagues producing a, relatively, apolitical charity single in the hope of doing something positive. Nonetheless, thank you for taking the time to clarify the true target of your article, and replying to my comments.


        • Samuel Hooper December 20, 2015 / 11:31 PM

          You make a very fair point – I will probably in future pick an example from government or opposition briefings rather than the efforts of NHS workers themselves, though in this case I wanted to use the example of the Christmas single because it shows how the general public are susceptible to NHS tunnel vision, particularly when we are asked only to show our support for an organisation rather than be engaged citizens and think more deeply about what is broken, what still works and what could be better. But as you say, Jeremy Hunt (and his Labour, SNP and UKIP counterparts) provide much worse fodder of their own.

          Cheers for engaging constructively with the piece, it’s much appreciated.


    • henacynflin December 26, 2015 / 10:54 AM

      Hi Amar,

      This was neither spiteful nor hateful. We need to discuss the future of the NHS which is not truly a “wonderful organisation” as recent studies have found it to be mediocre at delivering healthcare (compared to other European systems). This song, and your responce, are part of the problem in as much as they will not even consider looking at how healthcare provision in the UK could be improved. Merry Xmas


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