Is Stephen Hawking right to take Jeremy Hunt to court?
By Joe Harker
Ask someone from the UK what their opinion of the NHS is and they may tell you about a health service with noble goals but a lack of support from the government, particularly if the Conservatives are the party in charge. Ask someone who works in the NHS what they think of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and the response is very likely to be negative. The politician's Christmas card list is unlikely to be long and a name that will surely not make it on is that of Stephen Hawking, who has joined the lawsuit being taken against Hunt to combat the supposed plans to privatise the NHS.
This is just the latest part of recent disagreements between the two. The Health Secretary took to Twitter several months ago to voice his disagreement with Hawking. The scientist had accused Hunt of "cherry picking" favourable statistics and ignoring anything else, but Hunt insisted he was telling the truth about a study he called the "most comprehensive ever". Most sided with Hawking, who has spent much of his life being cared for by the NHS.
In their fact check of the argument, Channel 4 said that Hunt was "technically correct" but did not provide the full story. Under Hunt's leadership the NHS has had more money spent on private healthcare providers. They also question the Freemantle study that he was using to back up his arguments, with the research behind it being questioned by Oxford University, who suggested it lacked "basic due diligence".
The lawsuit against Hunt has won permission to go to the courts with the aim of taking the Health Secretary to task over the "back door privatisation" of the NHS. Hawking has joined a number of healthcare professionals who want Hunt's proposals for the NHS to be scrutinised by Parliament and the House of Lords. A full judicial review has been granted to ensure Hunt's proposals are lawful, and Dr Colin Richardson has welcomed the decision. He said: "There needs to be a sound legal basis before 10-year contracts worth billions of pounds are outsourced to these new organisations.
"We are delighted that the court has decided that our arguments deserve to be examined in detail."
The King's Fund think tank has suggested that any attempts to privatise the NHS would be "political suicide" for the party in power as the service is adored by the public. Hawking and the health professionals believe the government are trying to get around this by taking things slowly. Others believe the government is underfunding the NHS to make privatisation a necessary measure.