The battle of words between the scientist Stephen Hawking and the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, over the health of the NHS has continued with Hunt writing that Hawking “is once again wrong in his characterisation of government policy towards the NHS”.
On Saturday, after a week of angry exchanges, Hawking wrote in the Guardian: “Hunt’s statement that funding and the number of doctors and nurses are at an all-time high is a distraction. Record funding is not the same thing as adequate funding. There is overwhelming evidence that NHS funding and the numbers of doctors and nurses are inadequate, and it is getting worse.”
He accused Hunt of cherry-picking and misrepresenting research. “As a patient who has spent a lot of time in hospital, I would welcome improved services at the weekend. For this, we need a scientific assessment of the benefits of a seven-day service and of the resources required, not misrepresentation of research.”
Hunt responded on Sunday by repeating his insistence that hospital care was significantly worse at weekends. “Most doctors in their hearts would rather a loved one was admitted mid-week than at the weekend,” he wrote.
Hawking had again stated that the direction of health policy was towards “a US-style insurance system run by private companies”. Hunt insisted Hawking was incorrect, adding: “The NHS … will remain a single–payer, taxpayer-funded system free at the point of use – and should do forever as far as I’m concerned.”
In a tweet earlier in the week, Hunt had accused Hawking of spreading falsehoods. “Most pernicious falsehood from Stephen Hawking is idea govt wants US-style insurance system. Is it 2 much to ask him to look at evidence?”
The controversy began a week ago when Hawking, one of the most revered and admired scientists in the world, gave a speech at the Royal Society of Medicine in which he said: “The crisis in the NHS has been caused by political decisions.”
He also wrote in the Guardian: “We see the balance of power in the UK is with private healthcare companies, and the direction of change is towards a US-style insurance system.”
Hunt responded with an article in the Sunday Telegraph saying Hawking was a personal hero of his, but accusing him of making “a series of claims about the NHS without any evidence at all.”
This article was written by Maev Kennedy, for theguardian.com on Sunday 27th August 2017 19.18 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010