PROFESSOR Stephen Hawking has attacked the government’s NHS policies, and health secretary Jeremy Hunt in person, and warned they are seeking to bring in a ‘US-style insurance system’.
In a speech on Saturday at the Royal Society of Medicine in London, organised to air concerns about the future of the NHS, the world famous Cambridge University scientist attacked the Tory government head on: ‘The crisis in the NHS has been caused by political decisions.
‘The political decisions include underfunding and cuts, privatising services, the public sector pay cap, the new contract imposed on the junior doctors and removal of the student nurses’ bursary. Failures in the system of privatised social care for disabled and elderly people has also placed additional burden on the NHS.’
Hawking warned: ‘The NHS must be preserved from commercial interests and protected from those who want to privatise it. ‘The huge increase in the use of private agency staff, for example, inevitably means that money is extracted from the system as profit for the agency, and increases costs for the whole country. The more profit is extracted from the system, the more private monopolies grow and the more expensive healthcare becomes.
‘We must prevent the establishment of a two-tier service, with the best medicine for the wealthy and an inferior service for the rest. International comparisons indicate that the most efficient way to provide good healthcare is for services to be publicly funded and publicly run. We see that the direction in the UK is towards a US-style insurance system, run by the private companies, and that is because the balance of power right now is with the private companies.’
He singled out health secretary Hunt, who claimed that 11,000 patients a year died because of understaffing of hospitals at weekends. Hawking said that four of the eight studies cited by Hunt were not peer reviewed and that he ignored 13 papers which contradicted his statements.
The author of ‘A Brief History of Time’ said: ‘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. One consequence of this sort of behaviour is that it leads ordinary people not to trust science, at a time when scientific research and progress are more important than ever, given the challenges we face as a human race.’
The scientist, who suffers from motor neurone disease, said he wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for the NHS. Listing a number of occasions on which the NHS was there for him, Hawking said: ‘I have had a lot of experience of the NHS and the care I received has enabled me to live my life as I want and to contribute to major advances in our understanding of the universe.’
He declared: ‘When politicians and private healthcare industry lobbyists claim that we cannot afford the NHS, this is the exact inversion of the truth. We cannot afford not to have the NHS.’
Health secretary Hunt responded on Twitter accusing Hawking of lying: ‘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?’
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Hawking is a ‘brilliant scientist’ with a ‘brilliant mind’ who should be listened to. Speaking to broadcasters in north Wales, Corbyn added: ‘And if Stephen Hawking is saying that our NHS is under threat and in danger and in crisis then I think we need to listen very very carefully with what he has to say. I admire Stephen and I agree absolutely with what he said.’