Professor Stephen Hawking championed the National Health Service right up until his death.
The eminent physicist’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 spent his final months sparring with health secretary Jeremy Hunt over the future of the NHS.
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.
Less than two months ago a campaign group backed by Prof Hawking was granted permission to challenge Mr Hunt in the High Court over plans to allow private companies to play a greater role in the service.
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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’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.
Not to be forgotten amid all the tributes to Stephen Hawking – his passionate defence of the NHS and his equally passionate views on the damage Brexit will do to science and to the country he loved.
— Alastair Campbell (@campbellclaret) March 14, 2018
“The NHS must be preserved from commercial interests who want to privatise it".
Rest in peace, Stephen Hawking.
— Rachael (@Rachael_Swindon) March 14, 2018
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”.
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.”
Stephen Hawking was a defining force in the world of science whose loss will be felt in every corner of the globe. I was sad that we didn’t agree on everything, but he was still a hero to me as one of our greatest ever thinkers – he inspired with his courage as well as his words.
— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) March 14, 2018
On Wednesday, Mr Hunt tweeted: “Stephen Hawking was a defining force in the world of science whose loss will be felt in every corner of the globe.
“I was sad that we didn’t agree on everything, but he was still a hero to me as one of our greatest ever thinkers – he inspired with his courage as well as his words.”