Professor Stephen Hawking praised NHS and battled Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt

Professor Stephen Hawking was a vocal champion of the NHS who until his final months sparred with the Health Secretary.

The eminent physician's children announced that the "beloved father" and "extraordinary man" died at home in Cambridge in the early hours of Wednesday at the age of 76.

Prof Hawking, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 1962, had recently said he would not have had such a long life without the NHS.

I have decided to join Dr. Colin Hutchinson, Professor Allyson Pollock, Professor Sue Richards and Dr. Graham Winyard in...

Posted by Stephen Hawking on Friday, December 8, 2017

Less than two months ago a campaign group backed by Prof Hawking was granted permission to challenge secretary of state Jeremy Hunt in the High Court over plans to allow private companies to play a greater role in the service.

The scientist had warned it was an "attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS" to allow commercial businesses to run parts of the health and social services.

The judicial review into the proposal was expected to take place "as soon as possible" after Wednesday, coincidentally the day he died.

Mr Hunt accused the professor of spreading a 'pernicious falsehood' (Peter Byrne/PA)
Mr Hunt accused the professor of spreading a 'pernicious falsehood' (Peter Byrne/PA)

Mr Hunt's Department of Health and Social Care had rejected claims by the JR4NHS campaign group, founded by three doctors and a university professor, as "irresponsible scaremongering".

JR4NHS had argued the introduction of accountable care organisations (ACOs) will "Americanise" the NHS.

Prof Hawking, a lifelong Labour supporter, and Conservative Mr Hunt already had a tumultuous history.

In August, the Cambridge University scientist wrote to the Sunday Telegraph saying Mr Hunt's calculations to show Britain was not moving towards a US-style system were "silly".

Most pernicious falsehood from Stephen Hawking is idea govt wants US-style insurance system.Is it 2 much to ask him to look at evidence? 1/2

-- Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) August 19, 2017

Mr Hunt shot back writing on The Guardian website that the professor was wrong and tweeted that his claims of a US-style insurance system were a "pernicious falsehood".

"Is it 2 much to ask him to look at evidence?" he added.

Also, in 2016, Prof Hawking and experts such as Professor Robert Winston called for an inquiry into claims made by Mr Hunt, saying he "cherry-picked research, causing a devastating breakdown of trust between government and the medical profession".

Prof Hawking's children, Lucy, Robert and Tim, announced his death, saying: "He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years.

"His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world.

"He once said, 'It would not be much of a universe if it wasn't home to the people you love.' We will miss him forever."

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