Jeremy Hunt has accused Professor Stephen Hawking of ‘pernicious falsehoods’ in a new row which has broken out following the professor’s comments on seven-day services over the weekend.
In comments made at the Talk NHS debate on the current and future state of the NHS, the professor said that the NHS crisis has been caused by ‘political decisions’, including ‘underfunding, the public sector pay cap, outsourcing and privatisation’ and the drive for seven-day services.
The health secretary has responded in a series of tweets in which he said that ‘there is no evidence to support Professor Hawking’s claims about the NHS’ and asked if it is ‘too much for him to look at the evidence.’
The professor said that the ‘ most humane and civilized system’ is one in which all people are provided for equally, based only on their needs, and we must ‘prevent the establishment of a two-tier system with the best medicine for the wealthy, and an inferior service for the rest.’
He said it was ‘frustrating… when everything slows down at the weekend in hospital’, adding ‘in principle, a seven-day service could be of benefit to patients, and to the NHS as a whole’.
However, he added: ‘Any change like this must be properly researched and evidence presented… There has been no proper due diligence done in the case of the so called seven-day NHS, and the evidence is not supported by reliable research.
‘Speaking as a scientist, cherry picking evidence is unacceptable. When public figures abuse scientific argument, citing some studies but suppressing others, to justify policies that they want to implement for other reasons, it debases scientific culture.’
But responding to the criticism, Jeremy Hunt tweeted: ‘Stephen Hawking is brilliant physicist but wrong on lack of evidence 4 weekend effect. 2015 Fremantle study most comprehensive ever.
‘And whatever entrenched opposition, no responsible health sec could ignore it if you want NHS 2 be safest health service in world as I do.’
However, the Lancet study to which Mr Hunt referenced had concluded: ‘Together, these findings suggest that the weekend effect arises from patient-level differences at admission rather than reduced hospital staffing or services.’
A DH spokesperson said: ‘This Government is fully committed to a world class NHS free at the point of the use now and in the future.
‘That’s why we’re backing it with an extra £8bn of investment over the next five years.
‘The Commonwealth Fund has ranked the NHS as the best, safest and most affordable healthcare system out of 11 wealthy nations.’
But Justin Madders MP, shadow minister for health, responded: ‘It doesn’t take a genius to work out the Tories are wrecking the NHS. Professor Hawking has given us answers to many of the universe’s most challenging questions and even he can’t work out why Jeremy Hunt is still in his job.’