Minister defends Government’s NHS record after Tory MP’s defection to Labour

Minister defends Government’s NHS record after Tory MP’s defection to Labour

A Home Office minister has defended the Government’s record on the NHS, after the shock defection of a Tory MP to Labour in anger over the crisis in the health service.

Dr Dan Poulter, a former health minister and working medic, quit the Conservative Party on Saturday in a blow to Rishi Sunak ahead of what is already expected to be a tough week for the Prime Minister.

Dr Poulter said the Tories were “failing” the health service and that he could no longer “look my NHS colleagues in the eye” as a Conservative.

But policing minister Chris Philp rejected the claim that the governing party was not prioritising the NHS, pointing to investment and recruitment efforts.

Dr Poulter said that “the health service has ceased to be an area of priority for the Conservative Party, and that is now showing in the strain on the front line and the deterioration of care for patients”.

He told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg: “I found it increasingly difficult to look my NHS colleagues in the eye and my patients in the eye and my constituents in the eye with good conscience.

“And I feel that the NHS deserves better than it has at the moment in terms of how it’s run and governed.”

He added that the Tory Party’s “focus is not on delivering or supporting high-quality public services”.

He said he switched to Labour because of its “track record of delivering for patients, transforming services, getting on top of waiting lists, investing in community health care”.

Dan Poulter Labour defection
Dr Dan Poulter signing his Labour Party membership form with Ellie Reeves MP, Labour’s deputy national campaign co-ordinator (Labour Party/PA)

Asked for his response, Mr Philp said: “I don’t accept what Dan is saying at all.

“We’re now spending £165 billion a year on the NHS, that’s more than ever, at any point in history,” he said, also pointing to the recruitment of more doctors and nurses.

“That isn’t the sign of a party de-prioritising the NHS. That is a sign of a political party, the Conservatives, investing heavily in our NHS because it is a priority.”

He also insisted the Tory Party values public services and is investing “record amounts of money in both education and health”.

Dr Poulter will take the Labour whip until the general election but will not be running again as the MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich.

He will advise the Labour Party on its mental health policies while focusing more on his NHS work.

Labour leader Sir Keir said it was “fantastic to welcome Dr Dan Poulter to today’s changed Labour Party” and that it was “time to end the Conservative chaos”.

Asked whether the MP was offered anything to defect to Labour, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting told Kuenssberg: “Not that I’m aware of.

“He said very clearly to me when I was talking to him this week about how he might help, he’s going back to the NHS full-time when Parliament is dissolved, which can’t come soon enough as far as we’re concerned.”

Mr Streeting also told Sky News that the defection reflected “disaffection and disillusionment felt by millions”.

Dr Poulter’s move is likely to spook already restive Tory MPs and fuel doubts over Mr Sunak’s premiership.

There is already speculation that a disastrous set of local elections results for the Tories in a few days’ time could galvanise unhappy backbenchers into moving against him.

Dan Poulter Labour defection
Dr Dan Poulter who has defected to Labour in protest against the Tories’ ‘rightward drift’ and ‘neglect’ of the NHS (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Mr Sunak has insisted that he intends to call a general election in the second half of the year, but the fallout from the local elections could force his hand, either by leading to a challenge to his leadership or by persuading him that an earlier polling day could be a better solution than limping on with a divided party.

It is the first time a Conservative MP has crossed the floor to Labour since Christian Wakeford did so in 2022.

Dr Poulter’s move is the second defection under Mr Sunak, after former Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson left the party for Reform earlier this year.

Dr Poulter was first elected to Parliament in 2010. He held his Central Suffolk and North Ipswich seat at the 2019 election with a majority of 23,391.