2015 finally saw the NHS anointed as the
national religion

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m thrilled 2016 is beginning with Justin Bieber at the top of charts.

I’m actually rather impressed with the young man. He may have proven himself to be a vile human being on countless occasions (while simultaneously demonstrating the classic slow-motion car crash of child celebrity), but having three singles in the top four has to be some sort of achievement.

I say has to be because, like a lot of people, I haven’t paid any attention to the singles charts for about 15 years and, whenever curiosity gets the better of me, the combination of revulsion and astonishment leads me to quickly scurry back to my cave of ignorant bliss. I’ll stick with my Lully and Grimes, thank you.

It’s for this reason I didn’t bother listening to Mr Bieber’s Love Yourself, though for the purposes of this piece, I did force myself to listen to the NHS Choir’s Christmas single. A Bridge Over You – a medley of a song I’ve never heard and one I wish I hadn’t – is of course awful, but in a very different way to how I imagine Love Yourself to be awful. I’m sure there are people who, however misguided, genuinely enjoy Mr Bieber’s music and will probably get some sort of medium-term traction out of it. But I can’t imagine why anyone would listen to A Bridge Over You ever again.

Just as when the tone-deaf Military Wives ruined Christmas for us all in 2011, 127,000 people volunteered for another festive ear-rape this year on the basis of it being a nice thing to do, rather than for the intrinsic value of the product. So a bit like a sonic version of buying the Big Issue.

This was encouraged by a message on the music video, which urged people to “Show how much you #LoveYourNHS” by buying the single. Well, this is a concept I struggle with, because I have no love for a catastrophically flawed system of healthcare which seriously fails its patients, despite the best efforts of its frontline staff.

But that distinction – between the structure of the NHS and the people who work for it – is one we seem to struggle with in this country. So, instead of a conversation about why the NHS continues to fail the people who pay for it, we again exalted it as an infallible deity, this time in a kind of Christmas Day papal coronation.

I had the pleasure yesterday, for example, of welcoming some little lives into the world at Southend Hospital and was asked by one of the dads if I could mention in my newspaper report how warm, professional, and just gosh-darned amazing the midwives had been.

Of course I would, I said, and I made sure to squeeze it in because, in my book, anyone who works through the night in such messy, stressful, and vitally necessary work for what doesn’t amount to fantastic pay deserves some recognition. I’m sure it makes them feel better and it probably makes readers feel better, too.

But what struck me was when he qualified his praise with “You hear a lot of bad things about the NHS these days but they (the midwives) have been so good” – as though they were one and the same.

I’m certain dedicated health professionals would be dedicated and professional under whichever system of healthcare they were working, but the results of that hard work often depend on whether the system is working with them or against them. And, when it comes to the NHS, I’m afraid it’s working against them.

Once you have an insight into the behind-the-scenes working of the NHS, it becomes apparent the organisation is run as awfully as any state-run enterprise by its management, and I’m lucky to have a friend with a close family member who’s job it is to try and stop NHS trusts from haemorrhaging cash.

“Every time she goes to a new place she finds hundreds of thousands of pounds in savings in the first two weeks,” she says. “Not by the in-depth analysis she does later, but just renegotiating sales contracts and things like that.

“Often NHS trusts buy products at the list price they’re given, without negotiating, or buy similar products from multiple companies so they can’t take advantage of discounts in bulk buying.

“She goes in and calls all the companies selling products to her service – including all the little stuff they use thousands a year of – and demands a discount. She always gets one, a lot of the time as much as 30 per cent off. For any business person, it’s common sense, but it seems to elude a lot of NHS managers.”

But asking a civil servant to think like a businessman is like asking a baboon to think like a flight attendant. Even if he understands what you’re asking – and this is highly unlikely – you’re still going to end up with shit everywhere and probably some avoidable fatalities.

These are civil servants, and like all civil servants, every action they take is consciously or subconsciously informed by the little voice at the back of their mind whispering ‘remember, if we run out of money, the government will bail us out.’ By ‘the government’, though, they mean you and me – the taxpayer – and, like the unfortunate patients of old, this bloodletting puts the patient at serious risk.