Sarah Wollaston quits as chair of NHS Devon in protest at further cuts

<span>Sarah Wollaston: ‘Not happy as chair to sign off on the financials so time for me to go.’</span><span>Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian</span>
Sarah Wollaston: ‘Not happy as chair to sign off on the financials so time for me to go.’Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

A former Conservative MP and influential chair of the health select committee has quit a senior NHS post, saying she felt unable “to sign off on a further cut” with the “elastic already stretched too far”.

Sarah Wollaston, a GP for two decades before she joined parliament in 2010, resigned as chair of NHS Devon on Tuesday with immediate effect. She said she was “not happy” with new plans promising “unachievable” results that would only be possible with “unacceptable consequences” for patients.

She took aim at the government over the “frankly shocking” state of infrastructure in the NHS, warning of a “shocking waste of public money” and “lost opportunities” as crumbling hospitals and GP surgeries struggle to access vital capital funds. The crisis made her “genuinely sad”, she said.

Health bosses have repeatedly warned ministers of the desperate need to replace rundown buildings in order to protect the safety of patients and staff. The maintenance backlog has increased to £11.6bn in England, the Guardian reported earlier this year.

“With regret, I have decided to resign as chair of NHS Devon,” Wollaston wrote on X. “Thank you to all the wonderful NHS, care and voluntary sector teams that are out there doing their very best in challenging circumstances. Did not feel able to sign off on a further cut; elastic already stretched too far.”

Wollaston, who was appointed chair of NHS Devon in 2021, also criticised a funding regime that she said harmed NHS organisations facing the worst pressures.

“It really makes no sense to ‘punish’ the most challenged systems with penalties on their capital budgets when access to capital is essential to improving their performance, conditions and safety. The state of our infrastructure in too many places is frankly shocking.

“The next government needs to stop the cycle of capital to revenue transfers and pay serious attention to investing in NHS infrastructure. Also need to address the shocking waste of public money and lost opportunities due to delays in accessing capital.”

NHS Devon is one of the most severely challenged healthcare systems in England, with “significant financial and performance problems”, the Health Service Journal reported.

Wollaston added: “Genuinely sad to be leaving NHS Devon but in a nutshell, not happy as chair to sign off on the financials so time for me to go. No point promising the unachievable, especially if only achievable with unacceptable consequences.”

Wollaston became the Conservative MP for Totnes in Devon in 2010. In 2019, she quit the party to join Change UK, later becoming an independent MP before losing her seat in the election that year standing as a Liberal Democrat.

In a statement, Elizabeth O’Mahony, the south-west regional director of NHS England, thanked Wollaston for her “valuable contribution”. NHS Devon’s deputy chair, Kevin Orford, was named interim chair.