Health Minister David Clark's new competition - COVID-19 expert Dr Ayesha Verrall

Health Minister David Clark should watch his back - he has now got serious competition for his job in Dr Ayesha Verrall. 

Dr Verrall, the infectious diseases expert who rose to prominence during the COVID-19 crisis, has been given a plum spot on the Labour Party list, just one ranking below Dr Clark. 

Dr Verrall is not ruling out ambitions for the health portfolio - but her first day as a wannabe Labour MP did not go so well. 

With a coveted top-20 spot on Labour's new list, Dr Verrall will almost certainly make it into Parliament this election. 

The new Labour candidate said on Monday she is "eager to play my part in building a stronger and better coordinated health system that looks after you". 

As an infectious diseases expert, Dr Verrall became well known during the COVID-19 crisis after she reviewed the Government's contact tracing capabilities. 

Newshub asked Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday if Dr Verrall would make a good Health Minister, and she did not rule it out. 

"I'm not going to get into any speculation about a future Cabinet."

Dr Verrall also didn't rule out the idea when asked the same question. 

"I'm determined to use my skills and experience in health to make sure New Zealanders get the best health care they deserve in any capacity I can."

Dr Verall said it's ultimately a decision for the Prime Minister. 

There could be a vacancy after the election. 

The Prime Minister said in April she wanted to sack Dr Clark after he breached lockdown rules, and the latest Newshub-Reid Research poll showed Kiwis want him out

Newshub asked if Dr Clark should still be Health Minister and a clear majority - 56.8 percent - said "no", while just 35.7 percent said "yes". 

The Prime Minister defended Dr Clark on Monday when asked if she would keep him on as Health Minister despite breaching the lockdown rules. 

"The question you're asking me is whether or not his entire career should be determined by one mistake during that period."

Dr Clark is down eight places to number 17 since Labour's 2017 election list, reflecting the demotion he was given by Ardern after breaking the rules. 

Dr Verrall is nipping at his heels at number 18. 

She's a dyed in the wool, early card-carrying member of Labour, saying she signed up as a party member at age 16. 

During COVID-19, she was commissioned by the Ministry of Health to report on contact tracing - but she insists there was no conflict of interest. 

"I haven't been providing public comment on COVID-19 since I put my nomination in," she said on Monday. 

But footage shows Dr Verrall talking publicly to Newshub Nation three days after she threw her hat in the Labour Party ring, saying she felt optimistic about the Labour-led Government's COVID-19 response. 

"I'm really optimistic that they're on track," she said during the interview. "I'm optimistic we can because I know how much we've improved over the last two weeks."

Newshub asked the Prime Minister if Dr Verrall should have declared her intention to become a Labour MP, and Ardern seemed to suggest it wouldn't have made a difference. 

"Ultimately has that changed the professional judgement and opinion that she has very publicly shared?"

But because she didn't declare, the public will never know.

Analysis by Political Editor Tova O'Brien

It's unusual for a brand new MP to be given a senior Cabinet portfolio like health straight off the bat in their first term, but not impossible. 

People like Steven Joyce got transport in his first term, while Margaret Wilson became a minister and attorney-general in her first term. 

But for now, David Clark is definitely safe - barring extraordinary circumstances, any changes or reshuffle of Jacinda Ardern's Cabinet will be saved until after the election if in Government.

And health isn't the only thing the Prime Minister will need to address. The Labour list reflects the Cabinet, and there are only six women in the list's top-20 and just four Māori. 

The Prime Minister will be looking to make improvements there too.