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Stephen Hawking spars with Jeremy Hunt over NHS

Sky News logo Sky News 19/08/2017
British scientist Stephen Hawking attends the launch of The Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (CFI) at the University of Cambridge, in Cambridge, eastern England, on October 19, 2016 © Getty British scientist Stephen Hawking attends the launch of The Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (CFI) at the University of Cambridge, in Cambridge, eastern England, on October 19, 2016

Stephen Hawking has criticised the Conservative Government for its handling of the NHS and accused Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt of "abusing" science.

The renowned physicist and lifelong Labour supporter said Mr Hunt was "cherry-picking" scientific research into the so-called "weekend effect".

Mr Hunt has cited studies showing that death rates are highest during weekends and he said this was the main reason behind his drive for a seven-day health service.

That, in turn, saw Mr Hunt move to reform junior doctor contracts, which led to a number of strikes by the junior doctors.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt © Sky News Screen Grab Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt Writing in The Guardian, Professor Hawking wrote: "Hunt had cherry-picked research to justify his argument. 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.

"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."

NHS hospital © PA NHS hospital But Mr Hunt used Twitter to respond, saying: "Stephen Hawking is (a) brilliant physicist but wrong on lack of evidence for weekend effect.

"(The) 2015 Fremantle study (is the) most comprehensive ever and whatever entrenched opposition, no responsible Health Secretary could ignore it if you want NHS to be (the) safest health service in (the) world as I do."

The Fremantle Study looked at data from 2013 and 2014 and found that, although there were fewer hospital admissions at weekends, patients who were admitted during that time were sicker and faced an increased likelihood of death within 30 days, even when the severity of illness was taken into account.

According to the Govrnment, the study had concluded that the statistic "raises challenging questions about reduced service provision at weekends".

Prof Hawking, who is director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge, also wrote that the NHS "is in a crisis...that has been created by political decisions".

Protesters gather in Westminster during a demonstration in support of the NHS © Getty Protesters gather in Westminster during a demonstration in support of the NHS He added: "These political decisions include underfunding and cuts, privatising services, the public sector pay cap, the new contract imposed on junior doctors, and removal of the student nurses' bursary.

"Political decisions such as these cause reductions in care quality, longer waiting lists, anxiety for patients and staff, and dangerous staff shortages.

"Failures in the system of privatised social care for disabled and elderly people have placed an additional burden on the NHS."

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