Tribute to Prof Stephen Hawking and his campaign for the NHS

Stephen Hawking joined a lawsuit against Jeremy Hunt's destruction of the NHS before he died – remember that when you hear Tory tributes today

Hawking would not want us to forget about his opinions and his final, highly political crusade

The Independent "Voices"   14th March 2018  - by Sean O'Grady


One of the many joys of Professor Stephen Hawking (1942-2018) is that he was a brilliant scientist who was never some sort of stereotypical, other-worldly academic, content with his research and his Cambridge college. No. Hawking was up for a political scrap, and in Jeremy Hunt he found a worthy, or at least suitable, opponent.

Perhaps in context of the row about Hawking’s views on the NHS, Hunt’s modest tribute to him appears unseemly. Hunt proclaimed that he “was sad that we didn’t agree on everything”, which is an understatement at the very least.

Hawking and Hunt spent quite some time arguing over the NHS, which escalated when Hawking joined a judicial review against the Health Secretary. The Department of Health labelled this as “irresponsible scaremongering”.

Theresa May also paid tribute to Hawking, praising him for his “courage, humour and determination”. 

Hawking would not want us to forget about his opinions and his final, highly political crusade. He was, as we have all been reminded, a man of strong passions. When Jeremy Corbyn quoted Hawking at Prime Minister’s Questions, it was a powerful moment and Hawking (though not always a fan of Corbyn) most definitely would have enjoyed it.

The creeping privatisation of the NHS, the not-so-creeping underfunding of it and Hunt’s general arrogance infuriated Hawking, and understandably so. Hawking resented the Government’s massaging of statistics to suit their case, and, in particular the setting up of “Accountable Care Organisations” (ACOs) which contain within them the germ of future privatisation. Creating such entities open up the option of hiving off another significant NHS care sector to private concerns. While this might not necessarily happen and while those private companies might – theoretically – behave with higher standards than some other high-profile recent privatisation failures, none of that was assured.

As Hawking said last year: “Speaking as a scientist, 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.” It was probably not a wise idea for Hunt to accuse Hawking of “pernicious falsehoods”.

What is more, the changes were being driven through with little public consultation or debate. They were contrary to statute and were, thus, politically, legally and morally illegitimate. It was that hard logic that Hawking believed in, and why he was prepared to take his case to court. It was all he could do.

Usually, “slebs” attaching their names to a good cause or political campaign get slated for perceived hypocrisy. Hawking was such a powerful ally of the NHS, as well as a public Labour Party supporter, because he was no hypocrite, and understood intimately the issues he spoke out about. He didn’t have to do it – he garnered no additional fame or celebrity as a result – and he didn’t use private health provision for himself rather than the services provided by the NHS (some of which no doubt were either privatised or being privatised). Like many, he simply felt disquiet about the depth of the Conservative commitment to the NHS, and Hunt wearing an NHS badge on his jacket lapel wasn’t going to be sufficient to persuade Hawking of the sincerity of the Government’s intentions.

Hawking was a dangerous opponent, and it is a great shame that he did not live long enough to fight and win this battle to its conclusion. 



H & F and Ealing leaders at meeting to Save CX - 28th Feb 2018


On a bitterly cold evening about 150 campaigners and supporters came to listen to a panel of speakers at Hammersmith Town Hall.

Hammersmith Council Leader, Stephen Cowan reiterated that the propaganda from Imperial Trust and the NW London Collaboration of CCGs continues to be deeply misleading: the 2012 plan ironically called "Shaping a Healthier Future" has not been withdrawn and it is the core of all later documents, such as the 2016 "Sustainability and Transformation Plan" and the 2017 business plan to downgrade and close Ealing hospital ("Strategic Outline Case 1").  Mr Cowan said that the NHS are playing "fast and loose" with the English language when they pretend that "there never was a plan to close Charing Cross". Replacing the current hospital of 360 beds with a "local hospital" with 40-50 beds (13%) is, as any normal person would agree, the same as closing it.

The Leader of Ealing Council, Julian Bell, the co-chair of Keep Our NHS Public, Dr Tony O'Sullivan,  Merril Hammer and Anne Drinkell of "Save Our Hospital" campaign also contributed.

From the floor a new member of the audience asked: "Am I missing something? What happens when they close Charing Cross Hospital? Where will everyone go for A&E?" Una-Jane Winfield, of the "Save Our Hospital" campaign, said: "This is a partial answer: they want you to go on line and self-diagnose". She went on to give an update of the status of the two outstanding Judicial Reviews, the first brought by 999CallfortheNHS about the lack of universal and equitable coverage which STPs and Accountable Care Organisations would usher in and the second by Professors Allyson Pollock and Stephen Hawking against the lack of consultation and the need for primary legislation to bring in Accountable Care Organisations. Both JRs have court dates and are substantially funded.


CQC report on Imperial NHS Trust: "Requires improvement" 21st Feb 2018

In November and December 2017 the CQC inspected the three major hospitals in the Imperial group (St Mary's, Charing Cross and Hammersmith). Their report has been published on 21st February 2018 and is available here.


In the Evening Standard, Ross Lydall reported:

One of London’s biggest NHS trusts was today criticised for treating A&E patients on trolleys in corridors.

Imperial College Healthcare, which had problems with soaring patient demand highlighted in an acclaimed BBC documentary last year, was rated by the Care Quality Commission as “requires improvement”.

But it was praised for “outstanding practice” at Hammersmith Hospital in pioneering a keyhole method of replacing damaged aortic valves, avoiding the need for open-heart surgery.

A new system at Charing Cross Hospital for diagnosing prostate cancer meant MRI scans and biopsies were done on the same day, resulting in “significantly fewer” men having to undergo painful tissue-sampling tests.

But today’s report shows the trust, which has one of the largest building maintenance backlogs in the NHS, had largely failed to improve in the three years since it was last inspected.

The rating for emergency services at Charing Cross fell from “good” to “requires improvement”. The layout and lack of capacity was “challenging”. Five resuscitation bays “were frequently used for seven to eight patients”.

The report said the lack of emergency capacity affected the “privacy and dignity” of patients. This was despite a refurbishment at St Mary’s, which is a major trauma centre. A £3.5 million upgrade of the emergency department at Charing Cross is planned.

Nine “black breaches” were declared in 12 months, eight of them at Charing Cross, because patients arriving by ambulance waited more than an hour to be handed over to hospital staff.

Bosses did not have a full understanding at times of extreme pressures as front line staff were too busy looking after patients to tell them

The trust was ordered to improve urgently the state of seven operating theatres at St Mary’s and implement “deep cleaning” schedules.

Professor Ted Baker, England’s chief inspector of hospitals, said: “There has been some improvement in care at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and the quality of some services are outstanding. However, there is still plenty of scope for the ratings of the trust to improve.”

Imperial’s interim chief executive, Professor Julian Redhead, said: “In addition to the challenge of increasing demand for our services, we have a problem with an aging estate and shortage of space, especially at St Mary’s. 

“Despite our constraints, and thanks to our very skilled and dedicated staff, we continue to be rated ‘good’…  We’re determined to make further progress on the issues highlighted so that we can provide the very highest standard of care all round.” 

NHS faces £1bn deficit and widespread shortages of staff

By Laura Donelly - The Daily Telegraph  21st February 2018


HS hospitals are facing a financial black hole almost twice as bad as was predicted, new figures show.

Experts said the updates made “grim reading” for the NHS, with trusts struggling to cope with widespread staff shortages and rising demand.

The quarterly report from NHS Improvement predicts that hospitals will reach a deficit of £930m by the end of this financial  year - £435m worse than planned.

Meanwhile, the NHS reported almost 100,000 vacancies, with thinktank the Nuffield Trust raising fears that the situation is set to “spiral out of control”.

One in eleven jobs is now vacant, with even higher rates of shortages among nurses, the figures show.

Watchdogs said NHS staff were doing their best in the face of rising demand.

NHS leaders said the health service was “pushed to the limit”.

Why is the NHS under so much pressure?

  • An ageing population. There are one million more people over the age of 65 than five years ago. This has caused a surge in demand for medical care

  • Cuts to budgets for social care. While the NHS budget has been protected, social services for home helps and other care have fallen by 11 per cent in five years. This has caused record levels of “bedblocking”; people with no medical need to be in hospital are stuck there because they can’t be supported at home

  • Staff shortages. While hospital doctor and nurse numbers have risen over the last decade, they have not kept pace with the rise in demand. Meanwhile 2016 saw record numbers of GP practices close, displacing patients on to A&E departments as they seek medical advice

  • Lifestyle factors. Drinking too much alcohol, smoking, a poor diet with not enough fruit and vegetables and not doing enough exercise are all major reasons for becoming unwell and needing to rely on our health services. Growing numbers of overweight children show this problem is currently set to continue


Saffron Cordery, NHS Providers’ director of policy and strategy, said: “Despite working at full stretch with around 100,000 vacancies and a real risk of staff burnout, and despite treating 6 per cent more emergency patients year on year in December, trusts cannot close the gap between what they are being asked to deliver and the funding available.”

NHS Improvement said that the deficit is still not as high as it was in 2015/16 when it stood at £2.47 billion, officials said that the deficit had been reduced through a series of measures including cutting down on expensive agency staff, efficiency measures and "smarter" procurement.

The regulator said that the majority of the financial decline against plan in the current year comes from a small number of trusts with larger than expected deficits.

The ten worst trusts for A&E waiting times in January


Percentage in 4 hours or less (type 1)

The Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust


Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust


University Hospitals Of North Midlands NHS Trust


Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust


Shrewsbury And Telford Hospital NHS Trust


West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust


East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust


Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust


Norfolk And Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust


London North West Healthcare NHS Trust



[Target is 95% within 4 hours]     [my bold - London NW Healthcare NHS Trust includes Northwick Park and Ealing Hospitals]

Meanwhile it said that NHS providers had maintained A&E performance, with 89.5 per cent of patients being seen within four hours, a similar rate to last year.

NHS Improvement chief executive Ian Dalton said: "Some providers appear to have managed the financial pressures better than others.

"We are working closely with those providers whose financial position has deteriorated seriously to ensure that they grip their problems while delivering the best possible care for their patients."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: "Despite the challenging winter months, the NHS has cared for record numbers of patients and fewer NHS trusts are expected to be in deficit at the end of this financial year.

"Whilst the NHS was prioritised in the recent Budget with an extra £2.8billion for the next two years, NHS trusts must now tighten their grip on finances.

"There are currently record numbers of staff working in the NHS and the vast majority of vacancies are filled by bank and agency staff so patient care is not compromised. We are supporting staff to improve work/life balance by working more flexibly and have announced the biggest ever expansion of training places for both doctors and nurses."