- Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand
Jeremy Hunt has rejected Professor Stephen Hawking's claim that he "abused" scientific research to justify his policies.
The leading scientist, has accused the Health Secretary of "cherry-picking" favourable evidence in order to suit his arguments for the creation of a seven-day NHS.
The 75-year-old, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 1962, also suggested that Mr Hunt is also suppressing contradictory research.
In a speech to the Royal Society of Medicine, Prof Hawking said: "Hunt had cherry-picked research to justify his argument. For a scientist, cherry-picking evidence is unacceptable.
"When public figures abuse scientific argument, citing some studies but suppressing others to justify policies they want to implement for other reasons, it debases scientific culture."
"One consequence of this sort of behaviour is that it leads ordinary people to not trust science at a time when scientific research and progress are more important than ever."
The Health Secretary cited research which showed higher death rates at weekends when setting out his argument for the seven-day service
However the studies were not universally accepted by the scientific community, and Prof Hawking accused Mr Hunt of suppressing contradictory research to suit his argument.
In response to Prof Hawking's argument, Mr Hunt tweeted that while the 75-year-old is a "brilliant physicist" but wrong on the "lack of evidence 4 weekend effect".
Mr Hunt added: "And whatever entrenched opposition, no responsible health sec could ignore it if you want NHS 2 be safest health service in world as I do."
In a further series of tweets posted on Saturday afternoon, the Health Secretary accused the professor of spreading "pernicious falsehoods" and continued that under the Conservatives the NHS has benefited from more doctors, nurses and money than ever before.
The Health Secretary used his drive to create a seven-day NHS as one of the main reasons for reforming junior doctors' contracts.
It led to the biggest walkout of doctors in NHS history.
In his speech, Prof Hawking, who is director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge, warned that Mr Hunt's actions were harmful at a time when public support for science is "more important than ever".
He also said he "would not be here today" if it were not for the NHS service.
The lifelong Labour supporter also attacked Tory policies such as the public sector pay cap, the new junior doctors contract and removing the student nurse bursary.
"The NHS is in a crisis, and one that has been created by political decisions," he wrote.
"Political decisions such as these cause reductions in care quality, longer waiting lists, anxiety for patients and staff, and dangerous staff shortages."
"Failures in the system of privatised social care for disabled and elderly people have placed an additional burden on the NHS, " he added.
Prof Hawking also warned about the NHS being privatised.
He argued that the NHS is being subjected to competing forces, with the public who want a taxpayer-funded free service on one side and multinational corporations on the other.
"In the US, where they are dominant in the healthcare system, these corporations make enormous profits, healthcare is not universal, and it is hugely more expensive for the outcomes patients receive than in the UK.
"We see the balance of power in the UK is with private healthcare companies, and the direction of change is towards a US-style insurance system."
In response to Prof Hawking's speech, a spokesperson for the Department of Health said: "This Government is fully committed to a world class NHS free at the point of the use now and in the future - that's why we're backing it with an extra £8bn of investment over the next five years.
"Today, there are almost 11,800 more doctors and over 12,500 more nurses on our wards than there were in 2010 and the NHS is seeing 1,800 more A&E patients within the four-hour standard every single day.
"Despite being busy, the NHS has been ranked as the best, safest and most affordable healthcare system out of 11 wealthy nations - as analysed by the Commonwealth Fund.”
Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn defended Prof Hawking, calling him a "brilliant scientist" with a "brilliant mind" and "brilliant thought process".
He continued: "And if Stephen Hawking is saying that our NHS is under threat and in danger and in crisis then I think we need to listen very very carefully with what he has to say
"I admire Stephen and I agree absolutely with what he said."