The Drum Awards Festival - Out of Home

-d -h -min -sec

Advertising NHS Santa

NHS Charities Together defends Santa Covid-19 ad


By John Glenday | Reporter

December 15, 2020 | 3 min read

You may not be anywhere near the office water cooler right now, but we still want to spotlight the most talked about creative from the brands that should be on your radar. Today, we’re talking about NHS Charities ad from Iris that shows Santa seriously ill in hospital.


NHS Charities Together defends Santa Covid-19 ad

A hard-hitting Christmas message has forced a charity on to the defensive after it depicted Santa lying unconscious in hospital, surrounded by doctors and nurses attempting resuscitation in full protective gear.

In ’The Gift’, NHS Charities Together – a coalition of non-profit groups supporting the work of the health service – sought to pay tribute to healthcare workers by illustrating the lengths taken in the care of patients. Instead, it has split audiences down the middle with its graphic imagery.

Created by Iris on a pro bono basis, the advert focusses on an elderly bearded man being rushed to hospital before waking up attached to oxygen tubes. We then see the mystery man slowly recover with his identity hinted at in stages, first through some well wishes from someone called Rudy and later an inordinate pile of mail addressed to Santa.

Father Christmas finally confirms that Christmas has been saved with the delivery of a present to the nurse who cared for him, signed by Santa himself.

The well-meaning piece left some viewers seeing red, however, with critics labelling it disturbing and insensitive, with particular fears that any watching children may be traumatised.

Responding to complaints, NHS Charities Together stated: “When we launched the ad earlier in the week, we had an overwhelmingly positive response to it. Some subsequent media coverage of it has generated criticism of the ad on social media and some people have expressed their concern about it upsetting children.

“We worked closely with the team behind the ad to make sure it was produced responsibly and it was cleared for use by the relevant regulatory authority.

“However, we are sorry to the parents of any young children who have been upset by watching the ad and to the young children themselves – they were not the intended audience for it.”

In addition to the apology, the ad has now been removed from all social channels to head off any further controversy.

Despite the furore, many have praised the campaign for celebrating NHS staff as well as an initiative to direct last-minute Christmas shopping with selected brand partners including Kindred, Batiste and Marmite, with any money raised set to be distributed among relevant charities.

Advertising NHS Santa

Content created with:


The National Health Service is the publicly funded national healthcare system for England and one of the four National Health Services for each constituent country of the United Kingdom. It is the largest single-payer healthcare system in the world. 

Find out more

More from Advertising

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +