Objective: To determine which factors influence whether Santa Claus will visit children in hospital on Christmas Day.
Design: Retrospective observational study.
Setting: Paediatric wards in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
Participants: 186 members of staff who worked on the paediatric wards (n=186) during Christmas 2015.
Main outcome measures: Presence or absence of Santa Claus on the paediatric ward during Christmas 2015. This was correlated with rates of absenteeism from primary school, conviction rates in young people (aged 10-17 years), distance from hospital to North Pole (closest city or town to the hospital in kilometres, as the reindeer flies), and contextual socioeconomic deprivation (index of multiple deprivation).
Results: Santa Claus visited most of the paediatric wards in all four countries: 89% in England, 100% in Northern Ireland, 93% in Scotland, and 92% in Wales. The odds of him not visiting, however, were significantly higher for paediatric wards in areas of higher socioeconomic deprivation in England (odds ratio 1.31 (95% confidence interval 1.04 to 1.71) in England, 1.23 (1.00 to 1.54) in the UK). In contrast, there was no correlation with school absenteeism, conviction rates, or distance to the North Pole.
Conclusion: The results of this study dispel the traditional belief that Santa Claus rewards children based on how nice or naughty they have been in the previous year. Santa Claus is less likely to visit children in hospitals in the most deprived areas. Potential solutions include a review of Santa’s contract or employment of local Santas in poorly represented regions.
Park J, Coumbe B, Park E, Tse G, Subramanian S, Chen J. Dispelling the nice or naughty myth: retrospective observational study of Santa Claus. BMJ. 2016;:i6355.
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