As the chair of parliament’s Health and Social Care Committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston has always been known as a maverick – unafraid to call out Government policies that threaten healthcare provision.
But this year the former Devon GP really broke away from the pack, quitting the Conservative Party to help set up the Change UK party with other prominent MPs from different political leanings in protest over Brexit.
At the time she said she could ‘no longer continue as a member of a party which, in Government, is making poor decisions that will hit the communities I represent and set back the prospects for ending austerity’.
Her resignation letter also stressed her original motivation to move into politics: ‘After 24 years as a front line doctor and teacher in the NHS I entered politics because I wanted to bring that real life experience to help to shape and to scrutinise policy making.’
Yet only around four months after announcing her new allegiance, Dr Wollaston also left Change UK choosing to sit as an independent MP after the party gained 3.4% of the vote in the European Parliament elections. She has now joined the Liberal Democrats.
In the past year the HSCC has scrutinised NHS leaders over the long-term plan, sexual health services and medicinal cannabis.
It’s led to health secretary Matt Hancock being grilled on fixing pensions problems and him pledging to ‘look’ at setting a new target for the recruitment of 5,000 extra GPs after coming under pressure from the committee.
During that HSCC hearing Mr Hancock pledged to solve pension tax charges – that have been leading to some GPs cutting sessions or retiring early – by April 2020.
Dr Wollaston also pushed him for answers to a related issue – Capita’s handling of NHS pension administration – and the delays GPs are experiencing in accessing accurate records. While the health secretary’s response, in which he indicated GPs may have misunderstood the problem, may not have been satisfactory, many GPs will have been grateful for Dr Wollaston’s attempts to spell out the wide-ranging problems surrounding pensions.
Why influential: Unique role in scrutinising healthcare policies and holding Government to account