It comes as Professor Hawking attacked the Conservatives over their handling of the NHS and accused the Health Secretary of “abusing” and “cherry-picking” scientific research to justify his department’s underfunding of the health service.
He suggested Mr Hunt had cited some studies but suppressed others to justify policies, including his drive to create a “seven-day NHS” as one of the main reasons for reforming junior doctors’ contracts – which led to the biggest walkout of doctors in NHS history.
The Health Secretary had previously relied on research that showed higher death rates at weekends when setting out his argument for a seven-day service, although the studies were not universally accepted by the scientific community.
While Mr Hunt said Professor Hawking is a “brilliant physicist” in his response on Twitter, he added: “But wrong on lack of evidence for weekend effect. 2015 Fremantle study 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.”
But health professionals seized on Mr Hunt’s response, ridiculing his assertion the professor was wrong in his analysis. Doctor Rachel Clarke posted on social media: "Memo to Hunt: next time you dispute ability of world's greatest physicist to appraise scientific data, probably best to get your facts straight."
Tim Farron, the former Liberal Democrat leader, said: "A renowned scientist such as Stephen Hawking questioning your evidence might normally be cause to think again, but sadly it looks as though Jeremy Hunt has joined the chorus of those who have enough of experts."
75-year-old Professor Hawking, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 1962, said he “would not be here today if it were not for the service” and stressed “we cannot lose” the NHS.
Writing in The Guardian, he went on: “The NHS is in a crisis, and one that has been created by political decisions.
“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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