Guardian News and Media/London
Stephen Hawking has reignited his public dispute with Jeremy Hunt by joining a legal action aimed at scuppering an NHS shake-up that he fears will lead to greater privatisation and rationing of resources.
The physicist has become a party to a lawsuit that is seeking to stop the introduction of the first accountable care organisations (ACOs) into the NHS in England in April.
“I am concerned that accountable care organisations are an attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS,” Hawking told the Guardian, explaining his move.
“They have not been established by statute, and they appear to be being used for reducing public expenditure, for cutting services and for allowing private companies to receive and benefit from significant sums of public money for organising and providing services.”
ACOs have aroused suspicion among Labour MPs and NHS campaigners because they are modelled on organisations of the same name that play a key role in healthcare in some parts of the US.
Hawking and Hunt became embroiled in a war of words in August after Hawking used a Guardian article to accuse the Conservatives of causing the NHS’s difficulties by underfunding it and Hunt of “cherrypicking” and misrepresenting research findings to suit his arguments.
Hunt claimed on Twitter and in a newspaper piece that Hawking, a “personal hero” to him, had wrongly claimed that the NHS was heading towards a “US-style insurance system”, saying there was no evidence to back this up.
Hawking has become a “proposed claimant” alongside four academics and NHS campaigners, known as the judicial review group. They hope high court judges will grant them a judicial review to stop Hunt and NHS England bringing in ACOs without the move first being subjected to public consultation and scrutiny by parliament. “I am joining this legal action because the NHS is being taken in a direction which I oppose, as I stated in August, without proper public and parliamentary scrutiny, consultations and debate,” said Hawking.
“I want the attention of the people of England to be drawn to what is happening and for those who are entrusted with responsibility for the NHS to account openly for themselves in public, and to be judged accordingly.”
The intervention will focus attention on ACOs, which have so far generated little media coverage or political interest. They have been promoted by Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, and backed by the government, as a key part of his Five Year Forward View blueprint to modernise the NHS and help it stay within budget. NHS England says ACOs are simply a new way of ensuring that different types of health service bodies can work together, and with providers of social care services, in an area to integrate care to benefit patients’ health.
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