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Tory MP and ex-health minister defects to Labour

27 Apr 2024 5 minute read
Dr Dan Poulter. Photo via YouTube

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 the Prime Minister.

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

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.

‘Rightward drift’

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 chairman 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 the Prime Minister, 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 the Prime Minister to “call a general election as soon as you feel able”.

Mr Sunak has said the election will come in the second half of the year, but a disastrous set of mayoral and council elections on May 2 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.

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.

‘Mental toll’

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.”

The Observer reported that discussions had been going on for months between the MP and senior Labour figures about the timing of his defection and roles he could take on advising the party on its policies, while only half a dozen people were let in on the plans.

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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Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
28 days ago

Rats fleeing a sinking ship comes to mind.The iceberg arrives in the autumn.

Peter Cuthbert
Peter Cuthbert
28 days ago
Reply to  Steve A Duggan

Glad to see he is leaving politics at the next election. Folk who swop parties are never likely to become serious members of the new party. Dr Poulter stood as a Tory and has remained so for most of the 13 years of Tory disaster so the chances of him becoming a Socialist are close to zero. (OOps, I keep forgetting that the Labour Party is not a socialist party any more!)

27 days ago
Reply to  Steve A Duggan

Bit like “Frying pan to another frying pan, if not into the fire” !

27 days ago

Took 14 years from working in the NHS (as it was in Tory control for his tenure as an MP) . That is some gumption for a blue rosette.

Better late than never I suppose. I know people in the NHS that came to the conclusion it was stuffed many years ago, didn’t take them 14 years.

27 days ago
Reply to  Jeff

Time to trawl his hansard record. What did he do as a minister, what did he vote on.

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
27 days ago

The time to settle the battle with his ‘good conscience’ was when the doctors first went on strike over pay and conditions, not at the very time his ship is about to disappear beneath the waves. Watch out for a u- turn on standing for his seat again and winning as a Labour candidate. What could follow is a Tory bribe with cash for his local hospital and he crosses the floor again. Once a Tory, … fill in the rest.

27 days ago

I’d go further and say the tories have become Fascists! They were only Nationalists before the last PM Truss

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