Hawking has previously expressed concerns about Brexit and Donald Trump.LWP KOMMUNIKÁCIÓ

Ahead of his speech at the Royal Society this weekend, Stephen Hawking has publicly spoken out about the government’s treatment of the NHS and expressed concerns about privatisation.

Hawking begins his 700-word polemic in the Guardian by describing his personal experience of the healthcare system. “In my case, medical care, personal life and scientific life are all intertwined,” he says, referring to his fight against motor neurone disease and the “large amount of high-quality NHS treatment” he has received.

Yet Hawking believes that the current government is damaging the NHS. He lists underfunding, the public sector pay gap, inadequate privatised social care and the removal of the student nurses’ bursary as examples of the institution’s chronic problems.

He says that the problems are political: “The NHS is in a crisis, and one that has been created by political decisions.”

Hawking, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease when he was a graduate student at Cambridge, and is now Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology, criticised in particular what he sees as an anti-intellectual approach taken by the Conservative Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt.

Repeating criticisms made in an an open letter he co-signed in September last year, Hawking accused Hunt of having “cherrypicked” research on the so-called ‘weekend effect’.

According to Hunt, the ‘weekend effect’ results in thousands of deaths which could have been avoided were there better NHS care available at the weekend. However, as the open letter pointed out, Hunt chose to follow the data of studies which had not been fully peer-reviewed, rather than the independent peer-reviewed papers which refuted his claims.

In his article, Hawking said Hunt had caused “a devastating breakdown of trust between government and the medical profession.”

Hunt responded to this accusation with a series of tweets on Friday, saying that a study he consulted was the “most comprehensive ever”, and adding that “no responsible health sec [sic] could ignore it”.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health also responded with a statement, saying, “The government is fully committed to a world-class NHS, free at the point of use now and in the future — that’s why we’re backing it with an extra £8bn of investment over the next five years.”

Yet Hawking said that Hunt's behaviour was not acceptable:

“In making these claims without faithfully representing the evidence, he has obstructed fact and misled parliament and the public.”

“For a scientist, cherry-picking evidence is unacceptable. When public figures abuse scientific argument, citing some studies but suppressing others to justify policies they want to implement for other reasons, it debases scientific culture.”

Hawking is concerned about the effect of the Tory government on the public’s trust in healthcare and the work of scientists:

“One consequence of this sort of behaviour is that it leads ordinary people to not trust science at a time when scientific research and progress are more important than ever.”

Hawking suggests that the crisis facing the NHS can be viewed in terms of “oppositional forces”. He says that the force of multinational corporations, driven by the need to make profit, is in opposition to “the force of the public, and of democracy.” Citing unnamed opinion polls as evidence that the public oppose privatisation, Hawking says, “The best way to support the NHS is to empower the public.”

There are two aspects of the NHS debate which must be prioritised by the government, Hawking continues. Firstly, “clear information that public provision is not only the fairest way to deliver healthcare, but also the most cost-effective”, and secondly, “a loud voice and the political power to make politicians act on our behalf.”

Hawking’s anti-Tory polemic comes after he endorsed Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the 2017 General Election, specifically advocating Daniel Zeichner in Cambridge.

Corbyn tweeted to publicly thank Hawking for his intervention.

In June, Hawking said, “I’m voting Labour because another five years of Conservative government would be a disaster for the NHS, the police and other public services.”

Now, he adds: “The NHS brings out the best in us. We cannot lose it.”

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