Sarah Wollaston

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Dr Sarah Wollaston
Chair of the Health Select Committee
Assumed office
18 June 2014
Preceded by Stephen Dorrell
Member of Parliament
for Totnes
Assumed office
6 May 2010
Preceded by Anthony Steen
Majority 18,285 (38.8%)
Personal details
Born (1962-02-17) 17 February 1962 (age 53)[1]
Woking, Surrey, England
Nationality British
Political party Conservative
Alma mater King's College London

Dr Sarah Wollaston (born 17 February 1962) is a British Conservative Party politician.

Wollaston studied at King's College London School of Medicine, and after graduation was a general practitioner for two decades. Before becoming the Member of Parliament (MP) for Totnes in 2010, she was the first person to be selected as a parliamentary candidate for a major British political party through an open primary, in which she emphasised that she was an outsider to politics, who had worked a 'real job'. She won the nomination for the Conservative candidature and at the general election won the seat with an increased Conservative majority.

Wollaston is Chair of the Health Select Committee, having joined the Committee following her election to the House of Commons and later winning election to the Chair in 2014.[2] She has gained a reputation for being an independent-minded MP, not afraid to stand up to her party's leadership or oppose them when she believes that their decisions go against the interests of her constituents.[3]

As such, she has rebelled against the Government on several key votes—voting in favour of a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union in 2011,[4] for a cut in the EU budget in 2011 and voting against military intervention in Syria in 2013.[5] She has been a vocal proponent for minimum unit pricing for alcohol[6] and has spoken out against political patronage in Westminster.[7] In 2013, she jointly won The Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year Award for her opposition to a Royal Charter on press regulation.

Early life and education[edit]

Tal-Handaq School, Malta, one of the many schools Wollaston was educated at due to her father's RAF career.

A descendant of Polish immigrant John Israel Wollstein (the family changed their surname during World War I),[8] Wollaston was born in Woking, Surrey in 1962. Born into a service family, Wollaston moved frequently in her early life as her father Ken was posted to different bases with the Royal Air Force, including postings in Hong Kong and Malta, where she spent the largest portion of her childhood. She was educated at a mixture of military and civilian schools, spending the longest time at Tal Handaq in Malta and eventually attending a state secondary school in Watford.[9] While at school there, Wollaston took on a range of part-time jobs, including a Saturday job at the local branch of John Lewis department store.[10]

In 1980, Wollaston went to Guy's Hospital to study medicine, taking an additional course in pathology at the same time as her primary course.[11] She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Pathology in 1983,[12] and graduated in Medicine from King's College London in 1986. While at Guy's, she met her future husband Adrian and, alongside her studies, took up a part-time role as a Healthcare Assistant at the hospital to cover the cost of her degree. Later, she would train as a general practitioner, qualifying in 1992.[11]

Medical career[edit]

Sarah completed her studies in medicine in the University of London in 1986, before gaining entry on the GMC GP registry in 2006. At the moment she holds a registration without license to practice.

In her parliamentary career, she spoke about her battle with post-natal depression following her daughter's birth - revealing that she had suffered from panic attacks on public transport and suicidal feelings.[13] She attributed her recovery to a return to work, which helped her overcome the illness.[9]

In 1996 Wollaston moved to Devon to work as a general practitioner in Chagford on the edge of Dartmoor. She was also a police forensic examiner from 1996 to 2001,[12] dealing with victims of sexual assault.[11] From 2001 she was a part-time teacher of junior doctors at Peninsula Deanery in Plymouth. She became a fellow of the Higher Education Academy in Exeter in 2007,[12] and was an examiner for the Royal College of General Practitioners.[11]

Member of Parliament[edit]

2009 open primary[edit]

Wollaston joined the Conservative Party in 2006,[12] having been spurred into politics by her opposition to the threatened closure of Moretonhampstead Community Hospital.[14] However Wollaston accepted that she had "no background in politics" when in 2009 she put her name forward for the selection of a candidate for the Totnes constituency, citing as qualifications "only real life experience, approachability and enthusiasm".[15] The Conservative Association placed her on the shortlist of three to succeed Anthony Steen, who had announced his retirement after criticism as part of the United Kingdom Parliamentary expenses scandal.

Urged to do so by national party, the local Conservative Association had already decided that the selection would be made by an open primary, in which non-members would have a vote.[16] On 9 July the Conservative Party leader David Cameron announced that the party would, for the first time, send a postal ballot paper to every voter instead of holding the selection at an open meeting.[17] Wollaston later said that she might not have put her name forward had she known that the selection was to be by open primary,[18]

During the selection process, Wollaston campaigned on the problems of alcohol-related crime, citing also the 8,000 annual deaths from alcohol.[15] She later supported curbs on low priced alcoholic drinks.[19] but highlighted that the selection offered voters a choice between a career politician and "someone with a real job".[20] At a public hustings, she was asked whether her lack of political experience would make it difficult for her to throw and take political punches; she replied that this was not what politics was about for her, and that she would not indulge in it. Her reply prompted spontaneous applause.[21]

The primary was conducted under the plurality ("first past the post") method used in national elections. In the selection result, Wollaston was proclaimed the winner with 7,914 votes (48%), ahead of Sara Randall Johnson (leader of East Devon District Council) who had 5,495 (33%), and Nick Bye (Mayor of Torbay) who had 3,088 (19%). Nearly a quarter of all voters returned their ballots, a higher turnout than was expected.[22]

2010 general election[edit]

As the general election approached, Wollaston made clear her anger at suggestions that she would be a part-time MP, saying that she would not continue her medical practice if elected. The local Liberal Democrats denied that they were behind rumours that Wollaston intended to continue to practice part-time.[23] She accepted that the scandal over Anthony Steen's expenses claims had damaged the Conservative Party's chances,[24] and declined his offer of the use of his home to run the Conservative campaign.[25] She pledged to vote in a eurosceptic direction and to support a bypass for Kingskerswell.[26]

On election day, Wollaston was elected with a 45.9% share of the vote, and more than doubled the Conservative's majority.[27] She supported the formation of a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government as being the most appropriate for her constituency in the circumstances after the election,[28] explaining that voters wanted to see politicians working together.[29]


Wollaston's maiden speech on 2 June further outlined her concerns about alcohol-related crime and alcoholic drink pricing, and also mentioned issues of concern in her constituency including bovine tuberculosis.[30] Soon after her election, she was offered the position of Parliamentary Private Secretary - a junior aide - to one of the Health Ministers, influenced by her professional background. Despite being the first rung on the ministerial ladder, Wollaston turned the offer down because it would have required her to avoid speaking out against any Government policy she disagreed with.[31] She later said that she would not have been able to 'look [her] constituents in the eye' if she had signed away her ability to speak on the issues she had been elected on.[7]

In her first year in the Commons, Wollaston referred to her experience working with sexual assault victims in warning the Government against its plans to introduce anonymity for people suspected of or charged with rape. She argued that it would constitute a "further barrier" for victims to report their crime and that the vast majority of sexual assaults already went unreported.[32] She successfully pressed the Government to take up the way the European Union's Working Time Directive applied to junior doctors' training, saying that it was causing patient care to suffer.[33] In October 2010, she announced that she would not vote to repeal the Hunting Act 2004 because "the overwhelming majority" in her constituency were opposed to hunting.[34] She broke the Conservative whip in November 2010 to support an amendment setting a threshold of 40% turnout for the result of the referendum on voting systems to be valid,[35] and later that month supported a Labour amendment to allow more policyholders to claim compensation over the collapse in Equitable Life dividends.[36]


In March 2011, Wollaston warned David Cameron that the Government's NHS reforms would result in the NHS going "belly up".[37] She warned that the reorganisation would result in confusion with doctors being overwhelmed. She said there was a risk that Monitor, the new regulator would be filled with "competition economists" who would change the NHS beyond recognition and there was no point 'liberating' the NHS from political control only to shackle it to an unelected economic regulator.[37] However, her opposition to the NHS reforms calmed after the party leadership changed certain clauses at her suggestions and she eventually voted in favour of passage of the Health and Social Care Bill.

During her campaign for selection as Conservative candidate in Totnes Wollaston pledged to tackle the issue of alcohol misuse, having seen the impact of it during her medical career. In Westminster, she pushed for an introduction of minimum unit pricing for alcohol, arguing that a 50p minimum unit price would save almost 3,000 lives a year and save the NHS over £6bn over ten years while costing a moderate drinker only £12 extra per year.[38] When plans to introduce minimum pricing were shelved by the Government in 2013, Wollaston strongly criticised David Cameron and Department for Health Ministers, saying that the change in policy was due to lobbying by Conservative Party strategist Lynton Crosby, whose firm had strong ties to the alcohol industry.[6] Following her comments, she was named MP of the Month by Total Politics for her tough stance.[10]

Having been on the draft Bill Committee for the Care and Support Bill, Wollaston was selected to sit on the Public Bill Committee for the Care Bill in early 2014. There she introduced a number of amendments, including one which would have made terminally ill patients exempt from social care charges.[39]

Wollaston was elected as a member of Health Select Committee upon entering Parliament and was later elected to be Chair of the Committee upon the retirement of Stephen Dorrell in June 2014. She beat fellow GP Phillip Lee, Caroline Spelman, Charlotte Leslie and David Tredinnick to the role. [40] She was re-elected to this position after the 2015 general election.[41]

Foreign affairs[edit]

On the European Union, Wollaston has said that she supports reform to loosen the relationship between Britain and Brussels but would reluctantly vote to leave the EU if reform cannot be achieved. Writing for Conservative Home in 2013, she expressed support for EU membership because of access to the single market, but questioned whether it was worth the extra bureaucracy for business, loss of sovereignty and the deficit in democracy.[42] In the House of Commons, she has voted in a eurosceptic manner on several key votes - voting for a referendum on Britain's EU membership and voting to reduce the EU budget.

In August 2013, Wollaston rebelled and voted against military intervention in Syria, saying that such a move could escalate into a wider conflict with hundreds of thousands of victims. She cited strong opposition to intervention by her constituents as a key factor in deciding to vote against.[43]

Social issues[edit]

Before entering the House of Commons, Wollaston stated that she was 'strong pro-choice', and would not support lowering the abortion limit as such a measure would affect those who are in the greatest need.[44] In 2011, she voted against backbench amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill which would have prevented abortion providers from offering counselling services.[45]

Wollaston voted in favour of allowing same-sex marriage in 2013, writing that 'people who are gay should be allowed to celebrate their love and commitment in a context that society understands'.[46] She branded opponents of the change "bigots".[47]

Wollaston rebelled against the Government to vote against setting up a Royal Charter to regulate the press, claiming that many of the activities which had led to the proposal were already illegal and were being exploited to justify censoring the free press. Later, she was the joint winner of The Spectator magazine's Parliamentarian of the Year award for her stance.

In September 2013 she entered the debate about niqabs saying that some women found them offensive and urged the Government to ban them in schools on the grounds of gender equality.[48]

Political reform[edit]

Coming from a non-political background, Wollaston has consistently spoken out in favour of reforming the political system to make it more open and accessible. Citing her own experience in the medical profession she has called for job-sharing in the Commons, claiming that this would make it easier for women and those with families to stand for Parliament while helping to improve the experience of MPs.[49]

In 2013, she was signatory to a campaign for women to be able to inherit noble titles, instead of these being restricted to the male line. [50]

She has often spoke out against political patronage in Westminster and the role of the payroll vote in silencing dissent amongst MPs. She has suggested that vacancies for Parliamentary Private Secretary roles should put out for application and interview to find the most qualified candidate, rather than the candidate most in favour with the Government.[7]

Following her selection through the open primary process she urged the leaders of all parties to expand their use, particularly in safe seats. She claimed that the cost could be significantly lower than that of the Totnes primary by combining local and European elections with primary elections. In 2013, she claimed that the idea of expanding primaries had been 'shelved' because it was felt that they produce 'awkward' independently-minded MPs.[51]

2015 general election[edit]

In March 2013, Wollaston was reselected by her local Conservative Association to fight the 2015 general election as the Conservative candidate.[52] On polling day, she was reelected with 53% of the vote, more than tripling her majority to 18,285 (38.8%). [53]

Personal life[edit]

Wollaston lives with her husband Adrian, a psychiatrist in South Devon. They have three children—two at university and one working as a foundation doctor. [54] She is a keen cyclist and took part in the 2014 RideLondon 100 mile bike race with her husband.[55][56]


  1. ^ "The Times Guide to the House of Commons 2010", Times Books, 2010, p. 279.
  2. ^ "Health Committee – membership - UK Parliament". Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  3. ^ Morris, Nigel (21 January 2012). "Has Tories' independent-minded MP put the party off open primaries?". The Independent (London: Independent Print Limited). Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  4. ^ "Rebel MPs: the full list". New Statesman. 25 October 2011. Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  5. ^ "Voting Record — Sarah Wollaston MP, Totnes (24761)". The Public Whip. Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  6. ^ a b "Sarah Wollaston: Cameron has caved in to lobbyists on minimum alcohol pricing". New Statesman. 16 May 2013. Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c "A creeping patronage | Sarah Wollaston". The Guardian (Guardian Media Group). 28 September 2007. Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  8. ^ "Cameron must see past the hysteria and grasp the nettle on immigration | Sarah Wollaston". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-11-27. 
  9. ^ a b Marsh, Virginia (17 July 2013). "Career-change lessons from Sarah Wollaston, GP turned MP". The Financial Times (Pearson PLC). Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  10. ^ a b Chakelian, Anoosh (4 June 2013). "Why is Sarah Wollaston our MP of the Month?". Total Politics. Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  11. ^ a b c d P Greaves (8 September 2009). "The new face of Tory politics". Exeter Express and Echo. Retrieved 1 January 2011. 
  12. ^ a b c d "The Class of 2010", Total Politics/Weber Shandwick, London, 2010, p. 330-2.
  13. ^ Martin, Daniel (14 June 2012). "Series of MPs admit to suffering mental illness for the first time including OCD and postnatal depression". Daily Mail (London: Daily Mail and General Trust). Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  14. ^ "Three candidates for pioneering public vote are named", Western Morning News, 15 July 2009, p. 3.
  15. ^ a b "Choosing your Tory candidate", Herald Express, 23 July 2009, p. 10.
  16. ^ Allan Tudor, "Party workers backing under-fire Teign MP", Herald Express, 2 June 2009, p. 6.
  17. ^ Steve Peacock, " Voters will choose new Tory candidate", Herald Express, 10 July 2009, p. 5.
  18. ^ Olivier Vergnault, "Tories face 400 voters in first open primary", Western Morning News, 27 July 2009, p. 8.
  19. ^ "Call for 50p-per-unit alcohol tax". BBC News. 2009-11-30. Retrieved 2015-11-27. 
  20. ^ Louise Vennells, "All constituents can select new Tory candidate", Western Morning News, 25 July 2009, p. 11.
  21. ^ Matthew Parris, "It's queer, this letter from Coutts", The Times, 30 July 2009, p. 22; "I am proud to have joined the Totnes Tories in a pioneering political evening", The Spectator, 1 August 2009.
  22. ^ Louise Vennells, "Doctor victorious in historic public vote", Western Morning News, 5 August 2009, p. 5.
  23. ^ "'I won't be a part-time MP' vows GP running for election", Western Morning News, 10 March 2010, p. 8.
  24. ^ "Tory candidate admits fears over expenses", Western Morning News, 16 April 2010, p. 5.
  25. ^ "Election Diary", Western Morning News, 19 April 2010, p. 6.
  26. ^ Constituency profile, Herald Express, 29 April 2010, p. 7.
  27. ^ "'Rollercoaster' campaign doubles majority", Herald Express, 8 May 2010, p. 3.
  28. ^ Matt Chorley, "Cameron leads first coalition for 70 years", Western Morning News, 12 May 2010, p. 1.
  29. ^ Tina Crowson, "Parties reject truce plea", Herald Express, 13 May 2010, p. 1.
  30. ^ "New MP targets cheap alcohol and badgers in maiden speech", Herald Express, 4 June 2010, p.5.
  31. ^ "BMJ Careers - Becoming a doctor MP". British Medical Journal. 4 December 2013. Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  32. ^ Francis Elliott, "Tory women MPs attack rape suspect anonymity plan", The Times, 9 July 2010, p. 8.
  33. ^ Rebecca Smith, Robert Winnett, "EU law harming doctors' training", The Daily Telegraph, 8 September 2010, p. 1.
  34. ^ Owen Bowcott, "Countryside Alliance outfoxed by new generation of Tory MPs", The Guardian, 29 October 2010, p. 20.
  35. ^ Division 109. Hansard, HC 6ser vol 517 col 855.
  36. ^ Division 114. Hansard, HC 6ser vol 518 col 323.
  37. ^ a b Melissa Kite (20 March 2011). "David Cameron's health reforms risk destroying the NHS, says Tory doctor". London: Sunday Telegraph. Retrieved 20 March 2011. 
  38. ^ "Dr Sarah Wollaston: We need a minimum unit price for alcohol". Politics Home. 7 February 2012. Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  39. ^ Wollaston, Sarah (28 September 2007). "Dying patients should be exempt from social care charges". The Guardian (Guardian Media Group). Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  40. ^ "Dr Sarah Wollaston elected as health committee chairwoman". BBC News. 18 June 2014. Retrieved 14 July 2014. 
  41. ^ "Winning candidates for select committee Chairs announced". UK Parliament. 18 June 2015. Retrieved 19 June 2015. 
  42. ^ "Sarah Wollaston MP: If our relationship with the EU cannot be loosened then, with regret, I would vote to leave". Conservative Home. Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  43. ^ Wollaston, Sarah (28 September 2007). "Syria debate: why I voted against military intervention". The Guardian (Guardian Media Group). Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  44. ^ "Sarah Wollaston: You ask the questions". The Independent (London: Independent Print Limited). 24 August 2009. Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  45. ^ "House of Commons Hansard Debates for 07 Sep 2011 (pt 0002)". Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  46. ^ "Dr Sarah Wollaston | Sarah's Blog". Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  47. ^ Swinford, Steven (20 April 2015). "MP brands anti-gay marriage campaigners 'bigots' after leaflet attack". London: The Telegraph. Retrieved 14 June 2015. 
  48. ^ Brooke, Chris (16 September 2013). "MP Sarah Wollaston: Ban 'offensive' full-face veils in ALL schools because 'they make women invisible'". Daily Mail (London: Daily Mail and General Trust). Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  49. ^ Wollaston, Sarah (28 September 2007). "How David Cameron can get more women into politics". The Guardian (Guardian media Group). Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  50. ^ "Gender equality for peeresses". Daily Telegraph. 
  51. ^ Dominiczak, Peter (13 June 2013). "Plans for open primaries abandoned, Sarah Wollaston claims". The Daily Telegraph (London: Telegraph Media Group). Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  52. ^ "MP Wollaston is reselected". Dartmouth Today. 15 March 2013. Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  53. ^ "Totnes parliamentary constituency - Election 2015 - BBC News". 1970-01-01. Retrieved 2015-11-27. 
  54. ^ "Meet Sarah". Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  55. ^ Wollaston, Sarah (2 January 2014). "'Fat and happy? Forget it. That's why I'm subjecting myself to RideLondon'". The Daily Telegraph (Telegraph Media Group). Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  56. ^ "Sarah's Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 2014 page". Retrieved 16 October 2014. 

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Anthony Steen
Member of Parliament for Totnes