Glasgow GP Dr Margaret McCartney and former GP Dr Phil Hammond, along with prominent doctors and scientists including Professor Stephen Hawking and Professor Robert Winston, accuse the health secretary of 'cherrypicking' research to support claims that patients die unnecessarily at weekends because of poor hospital care.
The letter to The Guardian newspaper questions research supporting the so-called 'weekend effect' and warns that NHS policy should be based on evidence, adding that NHS policies aimed at tackling the weekend effect - such as the government's drive to create a seven-day NHS - should be suspended.
The letter says: 'Hunt has cherrypicked research, causing a devastating breakdown of trust between government and the medical profession. In making these claims without faithfully representing the evidence, he has obstructed fact and misled parliament and the public.'
It adds: 'We call on Theresa May to commission an independent inquiry into the process behind these policies. It is wrong to waste precious resources, or lives, because of bad evidence.'
A DH spokeswoman said: 'Over the past six years, we have been presented with clear independent evidence of variation in care across the week - and this government makes no apology for tackling the issue, to build a safer seven-day NHS for patients. Further peer-reviewed evidence is emerging all the time - including the authoritative 2015 Freemantle report which confirmed previous evidence of a weekend effect.'