In his keynote on the NHS, Professor Stephen Hawking warned the crisis in the NHS is the result of political decisions, including underfunding, the public sector pay cap, outsourcing and privatisation.
Professor Hawking’s speech comes at the end of a day of public debate called #TalkNHS, co-hosted by Discourse and the Royal Society of Medicine, at which audience members and public figures debated the current state of the NHS, the circumstances and decisions that led to this state, and what action is needed to ensure the NHS sustains its founding principles in and beyond its 70th year.
In his speech, Professor Hawking covered a number of issues facing the NHS, including:
Scientific evidence in health policy
Cherry-picking evidence is unacceptable. When public figures abuse scientific argument, citing some studies but suppressing others to justify policies that they want to implement for other reasons, it debases scientific culture.
Preventing a ‘two-tier’ NHS
The most humane and civilised system is one in which all people are provided for equally, based only on their needs, no matter who they are: rich or poor, young or old... We must prevent the establishment of a two-tier system with the best medicine for the wealthy and an inferior service for the rest.
Profit and commercial interest
The more profit is extracted from the system, the more private monopolies grow, the more expensive health care becomes… the NHS must be preserved from commercial interests, and protected from those who want to privatise it.
Sustainability of a public NHS
The most humane system is the most efficient system. This means that when politicians and private healthcare industry lobbyists claim ‘we cannot afford the NHS’, this is the exact inversion of the truth. We cannot afford not to have the NHS.
In the US where they are dominant in the health care system, the corporations make enormous profits, health care is not universal and is hugely more expensive for the outcomes than in the UK. We see that the direction in the UK is towards a US style insurance system, run by the private companies and that is because the balance of power right now is with the private companies.
Speaking in a Q&A session in the lead up to the keynote, Professor Hawking also said:
On the NHS ‘crisis’
"The crisis in the NHS has been created by political decisions. The political decisions include underfunding and cuts, privatising services, the public sector pay cap, the new contract imposed on the junior doctors and removal of the student nurses’ bursary... Failures in the system of privatised social care for disabled and elderly people has also placed additional burden on the NHS.”
On how to support the NHS
"If my analysis of the situation in terms of competing forces is accurate, the best way to support the NHS is to empower the public. First, the public needs clear information that public provision is not only fairest but also most cost-effective. Second, the public needs to develop a loud voice and political power to make politicians act on our behalf.”
On the political nature of the NHS
"If that all sounds political that is because the NHS has always been political. It was set up in the face of political opposition. The NHS needs to be protected from private companies and profiteering and that will require political action. Politicians will act in the best interests of the public if the public pushes them. So the challenges for supporters of the NHS are to communicate the fact the NHS is under threat and that it is cheaper to have a publicly-run system and to give the public a loud voice to express their support for a NHS based on its founding principles.”
The speech took place on Saturday 19 August.