Stik’s Street Art, Like His Life Story, Is Moving. But This Worship Of The NHS Is Dangerous

NHS worship - Stik - National Religion

In secular Britain, the only things left to worship are ourselves, government and the NHS. And boy, do we do it well

Here is an interesting variant on the usual deification of the NHS we are used to seeing and hearing from the organisation’s cult-like defenders.

From the Hackney Citizen:

Stik, the once-homeless graffiti artist, whose stick-like figures adorn the streets of East London and beyond, has announced that a full set of his NHS Sleeping Baby print is to be auctioned at Christie’s later this month.

The prints, expected to sell for £2,000 to £3,000 as a set of four, will raise money for the Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust Art Charitable Fund.

This is not the first time Stik has used his art to help the hospital. The original ‘Sleeping Baby’ mural can be seen in the garden of Homerton Hospital itself, and last year Stik sold £50,000 worth of prints of the image with all the proceeds going to the Homerton Hospital’s art room.

The iconic image of a sleeping baby, painted in Stik’s usual style of block colour and thick-black lines, has since been adopted as a symbol by NHS workers. “It represents the vulnerability of the NHS and the feeling of fondness we have for it. The NHS is our baby and we have to protect it,” Stik says.

During the recent junior doctors strikes, the image was printed on placards with slogans such as ‘Hands off our NHS’ and ‘The NHS is our baby’.

To be clear: doing anything to raise money for hospitals is a selfless and noble act, to be applauded. That much is great. What is troubling are the sentiments expressed which accompany the philanthropic act – in this case, an almost slavelike devotion not to the idea of healthcare, hospitals or the work of medical professionals, but rather to one specific organisation, government department and method of healthcare delivery.

Speaking about the NHS as a vulnerable infant, almost like the Christ child, is not healthy behaviour. Nor is placing ourselves in the position of loving parents to this baby, charged with protecting it from all harm (though it does make a refreshing change from portraying ourselves as the children, being tended to by the watchful parent of big government).

Equally offensive is the way that NHS cultists presume to speak for everyone in the country, and routinely pontificate about things like “the feeling of fondness we have for it”. Oh do we, now? I’m fairly certain that NHS-loving drones are indeed in the majority, but I would also wager that there is a not insignificant number of people who fully support the idea of universal healthcare and are very grateful to doctors and nurses, but who have very little attachment to Britain’s unique model of centralised, government-owned delivery.

And yet the NHS cultists, much like the Princess Diana cultists nearly two decades ago, have the nerve to speak on behalf of us all. They declare on our behalf just how much we love the NHS and will fight to protect it from change, just as the Diana cultists wept into every passing television camera, sang along to Elton John and declared the entire nation to be in mourning.

Stik is a gifted artist, and many people find his murals poignant and beautiful. But we should not allow our respect for an artist and sympathy with his powerful life story to cause us to unquestioningly swallow NHS propaganda, hook, line and sinker. Other countries, without an NHS of their own, manage to build and operate hospitals too. Many of them provide their citizens with healthcare free at the point of use. Many also help the homeless, or indeed anyone in urgent need of medical care. Believe it or not, generosity, compassion and public spiritedness are not uniquely British values.

Whether we are allowing Stik to lead us in worship of the fifth biggest employer in the world, childishly painting the NHS logo on our faces, wearing it on our clothes or propelling a schmaltzy NHS Choir ballad to the Christmas No. 1 slot in the charts, in each cases we are disengaging our brains and allowing ourselves to be swept up in a cult rather than thinking rationally. Maybe the NHS was just what Britain needed back when we were struggling to pick ourselves up from the rubble of the second world war. But 68 years later, even in this age of globalisation, no other country has chosen to copy our approach. Not one. Shouldn’t that tell us something?

Faith is important*, but it is generally best applied to the spiritual realm. In the temporal realm here on Earth, we are able to look at evidence, test hypotheses and innovate new solutions when old ideas and ways of working become obsolete. Nowhere is this more true than the field of medicine. If we or a loved one were gravely ill, few of us would put our trust in a faith healer or wait for a divine miracle alone to provide a cure. Indeed, we tend to scorn and even prosecute those who do so.

And yet when it comes to the system of healthcare delivery we choose for our country, we proudly spurn new information and cling desperately to the familiar, seizing on any news story which confirms our present pro-NHS biases while simply ignoring heretical contrary evidence. In other words, we act entirely through (misplaced) faith, not reason.

Of course we should all hope that Stik’s Sleeping Baby prints raise much money for the Homerton University Hospital NHS Trust when they are auctioned – nobody disputes the worthiness of the cause. But in post-religious, increasingly secular Britain, we should be very wary of what we choose to fill the void once occupied by the Church. The human urge to worship has clearly not been vanquished, and venerating the NHS as we currently do is terrible for us, and calamitous for our flailing healthcare system.


* Long-time readers will recall that I am a Roman Catholic


NHS Logo - Cross - National Religion - Worship - Idolatry

Top Image: London24

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