Tory MP and ex-health minister defects to Labour

A Tory MP and former health minister has defected to Labour in protest against the Tories’ “rightward drift” and neglect of the NHS, in a blow to UK prime minister Rishi Sunak.

Dr Dan Poulter, a working medic, has quit the Conservative Party saying it is “failing” the health service and that he could no longer “look my NHS colleagues in the eye” as a Tory.

He 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 wrote in the Observer.


Dr Poulter told the newspaper the Conservative Party “feels like it has become a nationalist party of the right”, having seen a “rightward drift” since David Cameron left Downing Street in 2016.

“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 said.

He added that he had come to the conclusion that “the only cure is a Labour government”, and that he would support Sir Keir Starmer and shadow health secretary Wes Streeting before and after the general election on NHS policy.

Speaking to the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, Dr Poulter said: “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.

“The party I was elected into valued public services, it had a compassionate view about supporting the more disadvantaged in society. I think the Conservative Party today is in a very different place. Its focus is not on delivering or supporting high-quality public services.”

Labour leader Sir Keir said it was “fantastic to welcome Dr Dan Poulter to today’s changed Labour Party.

“It’s time to end the Conservative chaos, turn the page and get Britain’s future back. I’m really pleased that Dan has decided to join us on this journey.”

Mr Streeting said on social media site X: “Proud to welcome Dr Dan Poulter MP to the @UKLabour Party.

“As a frontline clinician, he’s seen the damage that 14 years of Conservative government have done to our NHS.

“Delighted to have his support and look forward to working with him, especially on mental health reform.”

The defection is a significant blow to Mr Sunak less than a week before council and mayoral elections in which the Tories are expected to suffer heavy losses.

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 chair Lee Anderson ditched the party for Reform earlier this year.

It is likely to spook already restive Tory MPs and fuel doubts over Mr Sunak’s leadership.

In a letter to Mr Sunak, Dr Poulter wrote: “I have decided, in all professional conscience, that I can no longer continue as a member of the Conservative Party.

“Regrettably, I have come to the conclusion that only the Labour Party has the trust and the will to restore a failing health service which is currently unable to deliver the care patients need and deserve.”

He also “respectfully” urged Mr Sunak to “call a general election as soon as you feel able”.

Writing in the Observer, Dr Poulter said that, working 20 night shifts as am A&E mental health doctor over the past year, he had seen patients suffering from serious psychosis waiting days for a mental health bed, which would often end up being hundreds of miles from their homes.

He wrote: “The mental toll of a service stretched close to breaking point is not confined to patients and their families. It also weighs heavily on my NHS colleagues who are unable to deliver the right care in a system that simply no longer works for our patients.”

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.


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