Stephen Hawking is backing a group of campaigners in bringing Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to the High Court over a new policy which they claim will lead to the privatization of the NHS.
The acclaimed physicist is joining campaigners in challenging the health secretary over his introduction of Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), partnership organizations between hospitals, care organizations and councils.
In some areas, the ACOs will hold contracts to provide services – something Hawking believes could give commercial companies more control of health and care services, amounting to an “attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS.”
The campaign was launched by JR4NHS, a group of three doctors and a university professor who claim the introduction of ACOs will “Americanize” the NHS.
Announcing his support for the campaign group in December, Hawking added in a Facebook post: “The NHS must be protected from those who want to privatize it.”
Campaigners argue parliament has not been given the chance to legislate the process, and that an act is needed for the changes to be implemented.
Dr Colin Hutchinson, a former consultant eye surgeon who is also a claimant and the chair of Doctors for the NHS, said Hunt’s proposals would “eventually affect everybody in England.”
“There needs to be a sound legal basis before 10-year contracts worth billions of pounds are outsourced to these new organizations. We are delighted that the court has decided that our arguments deserve to be examined in detail,” Dr. Hutchinson told the Independent.
Dr Rachel Clarke, an author and NHS doctor, echoed this, saying: “When long-term NHS contracts are being rewritten covertly, behind closed doors, it is impossible not to fear their potential impact on our health service.
“If ACOs are no threat to the NHS as we know it, then why are they not being talked about openly? Why are they being rushed through on the sly?” she told the paper.
A Department of Health and Social Care dismissed the claims as “irresponsible scaremongering.”
A spokesperson said: “We strongly resist the misleading claims in this action; it is irresponsible scaremongering to suggest that Accountable Care Organizations are being used to support privatization and harm the fundamental principles of the NHS.
“The NHS will remain a taxpayer-funded system free at the point of use; ACOs are simply about making care more joined-up between different health and care organizations.
“Our consultation on changes to support ACOs is entirely appropriate and lawful.
“We believe it is right that local NHS leaders and clinicians have the autonomy to decide the best solutions to improve care for the patients they know best – and any significant local changes are always subject to public consultation and due legal process.”
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