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Hawking responds to comments made by Hunt over NHS
Hawking hits back Photo credits: The Guardian/Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA; Mirror/PA

After a week long feud, Stephen Hawking has now hit back at Jeremy Hunt after the Health Secretary accused the acclaimed scientist of a “pernicious falsehood” for his claims that the NHS is moving towards a US-style insurance-based health system.

In his initial article which provoked the debate, Hawking criticised Hunt’s decision to establish a seven-day NHS, claiming that the Health Secretary “cherry-picked” research to support his arguments, whilst flatly ignoring contradictory evidence.

Attacking Hawking’s statement, Hunt claimed that the physicist has no “evidence at all” to back up his arguments, claiming that since the Tories came to power in 2010, the amount of people seeking private health insurance has fallen by 9.4%.

But now, Hawking has clinically deconstructed the ailing Health Secretary.

Embarrassing 

At the time of Hunt’s initial claims regarding the need for a seven day service, Fiona Godlee, editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal (the sole source for the Health Secretary’s research into the “weekend effect) had rebuked Hunt for misrepresenting the Journal’s data.

But this isn’t the only case of incomplete data in Hunt’s argument.

Hawking’s article pointed out that while the number of doctors and nurses working for the NHS may be at an “all-time high”, proportionate funding for the Healthcare System is nevertheless inadequate.

In 2015-2016, the NHS suffered a £2.4bn shortfall in funding, its largest ever – and NHS spending per person will continue to decrease into 2019. 

While Hawking does not deny that the amount of people seeking private healthcare insurance may have decreased, he claims that this is because the financial crash has made it more difficult for people to afford private healthcare – stretching the NHS’ resources further.

Despite this, the percentage share of NHS contracts held by private providers has increased significantly from 2.8% when Labour were in government (2006-2007) to 7.6% in 2015-2016. Maybe the government do not want a US-style healthcare system, as Jeremy Hunt claims, but this does provably appear to be the direction into which the NHS is headed. 

The concept of ‘Health Maintenance Organisations’ (HMOs) – which provide services for hospitals and clinics in the US – is being transferred over to our shores under the guise of ‘ACOs‘, or ‘Accountable Care Organisations’, whose management Hawking believes could be snapped up by US HMOs.

Of course the final direction of the NHS is unclear, but Jeremy Hunt’s refusal to study nuanced facts will undoubtedly have negative implementations for the National Health Service.

Difficulties surrounding moving towards a seven day NHS based on the “weekend effect” – the idea that a disproportionate amount of patients die in hospitals on weekends – are just one of the many crises the NHS currently faces.

Other issues, such as underfunding and the removal of bursaries for student nurses, have been used as excuses by the Tories to allow profit-driven multinational corporations to buy up NHS contracts, leading to the gradual privatisation of the health system

And by continuing to assert his own beliefs and twisting evidence to suit his own agenda, Hunt is ignoring the gaping holes appearing at the bottom of the NHS ship, blissfully unaware that forcing staff to row for longer won’t be enough to stop the vessel from sinking into the hands of multinational corporations.

But then again, this was probably his plan all along.

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