Jeremy Hunt under fire for stance on NHS tribute, homeopathy and abortion:” Leading scientists have also questioned Hunt’s suitability to be responsible for the NHS because he endorses homeopathy”

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Labour claims health secretary’s apparent attempt to exclude NHS scenes from Olympic ceremony shows lack of support

NHS tribute Olympics opening ceremony 2012

Jeremy Hunt reportedly tried to remove the NHS tribute from Danny Boyle’s Olympics opening ceremony. Photograph: Jae C. Hong/AP

New health secretary Jeremy Hunt is under fire for backing the use of homeopathy to treat illnesses and for reportedly trying to remove a tribute to the NHS from the Olympics opening ceremony.

Labour claimed Hunt’s apparent attempt to exclude scenes celebrating the work of NHS nurses from Danny Boyle’s much-praised Olympic curtain-raiser showed he did not support its core values.

“Right now the NHS needs somebody who believes in its values and is ready to stand up for it,” said Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary. “Instead, the prime minister has given it to the man who reportedly tried to remove the NHS tribute from the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.”

Leading scientists have also questioned Hunt’s suitability to be responsible for the NHS because he endorses homeopathy, which many scientists believe has no value and is a waste of NHS funds. In 2007 Hunt signed a Commons early day motion supporting it and also argued that it was worthwhile in correspondence with a constituent who questioned his stance, which was later published.

“To praise the positive contribution of homeopathy to the NHS does not bode well for the new person in charge of UK healthcare. One can only hope that with the reality of the new job, there will be a more rational insight in the actual evidence on this topic,” said Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor at Exeter University.

Professor Sir John Krebs, professor of zoology at Oxford University and former head of the Food Standards Agency, added: “There is overwhelming evidence that homeopathic medicine is not effective. It would be a real blow for those who want medicine to be science-based if the secretary of state were to promote homeopathy because of his personal beliefs.”

Diane Abbott, shadow health minister, also expressed concern at Hunt’s stance on abortion after it emerged that in 2008 he voted for the time limit on abortion to be reduced from 24 to 12 weeks.

Mike Farrar, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals and other providers of NHS care, cautioned the new health secretary that he was “taking on a critical brief at a critical time”.

“Top of Hunt’s in-tray will be making sure the NHS is financially sustainable for the future and fit to respond to the needs of our changing population,” said Farrar, an ex-chief executive of the NHS in the north-west.

“The NHS reforms are important, but we must keep our eye on the long term issues the NHS is facing – an ageing population and growing rates of obesity. Driving change in these areas will be the big test of the success of this Government,” he added.

Professor Chris Ham, chief executive of the King’s Fund health think-tank, warned Hunt that without big changes in the way the NHS delivers care the service would not be able to cope with rising demand.

“Jeremy Hunt takes up his post with the NHS performing well after years of investment and reform. However, fundamental changes in the way care is delivered are needed if the NHS is to respond to the demands of an ageing population, changing burden of disease and rising patient expectations”, said Ham.

“The new secretary of state must show political leadership by supporting the case for radical transformation in the delivery of care. Although funding pressures on the NHS and social care are an immediate and pressing concern, he must focus on addressing the longer term challenges and ensure change benefits patients”, he added

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