LONDON, United Kingdom - The UK has had its fair share of ropey Christmas number ones but this year things have become distinctly political with the top spot taken by Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir. The supporters of socialised healthcare kept Canadian heartthrob at bay, Justin Bieber, with a version of the Simon and Garfunkel classic Bridge Over Troubled Water.
The status of the National Health Service has been the subject of significant debate in the UK since the Conservatives began a programme of reforms. Liberals claim the service is under threat as a result of proposals to force healthcare professionals to offer a full range of services at the weekend.
NHS survival rates are far lower at the weekends and overnight with patients believing getting sick outside hours is not really deemed acceptable to staff. The UK already has some of the worst survival rates for diseases like cancer, with unions blaming the results on pay freezes for their members.
Reform has proved difficult because liberals claim any changes would undermine the concept of universal health coverage. As a result any changes to the NHS face significant opposition, despite the service being one of the world’s biggest employers with around one million staff. It size has led some politicians to conclude it is ungovernable.
Justin Bieber appeared magnanimous in defeat having urged his 72 million Twitter followers to buy the charity single. He tweeted: "Just heard the news. Amazing. That is what Christmas is all about. @Choir_NHS congrats! Very cool." The star did bag three of the five top spots in the chart, a highly unusual feat in the highly competitive UK market.
Proceeds of the NHS Choir song will be shared between various healthcare charities. In a statement the group said: "We are absolutely overwhelmed and couldn't be any happier.” They continued: "It's a brilliant celebration for the NHS across the country so well done and thank you everyone for downloading and streaming. A massive cheer for the NHS, thank you."
NHS Choir achieved 127,000 sales, while Bieber's Love Yourself had sales and streams equivalent to 97,000 copies. The Official Chart Company said this had been the closest run battle for number one since 2009.
Conservative Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt offered his congratulations to the choir, but this was met with a barrage of attacks from doctors. They are angry about changes to their contracts, in line with the plan to make them work outside office hours. One medical student, Matt Cox told the minister: "Do not claim this for yourself.'This is part of the protest against you."
Bieber wasn't the only major music industry figure to have received bad news this Christmas. Simon Cowell's X Factor winner, Louisa Johnson, did not make it into the top ten. Her song Forever Young reached number 12, a poor showing from a company that has dominated the top spot in recent years.