Labour MP David Clark steps down as Health Minister

Labour MP David Clark has stepped down as Health Minister.

The embattled MP for Dunedin North said he had become a "distraction" and that the "time is right" for someone else to fill the role, but he will stand as an MP in the upcoming election. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement Dr Clark contacted her on Wednesday to "confirm his wish to resign as a minister" and that she had accepted his resignation. 

The Prime Minister has appointed Labour MP Chris Hipkins as Health Minister until the election. Hipkins is currently the Minister of Education. 

"Our response to COVID is on a stable footing and I have full confidence that minister Hipkins will oversee the portfolio with the thoroughness and diligence he brings to his other areas of responsibility," Ardern said. 

Dr Clark offered his resignation during the level 4 lockdown in response to breaking the rules. The Prime Minister said at the time she would have accepted his resignation under normal circumstances but she did not want any distractions. 

"Serving as Minister of Health has been an absolute privilege, particularly through these last few months," Dr Clark said on Thursday. "It's no secret that health is a challenging portfolio. I have given it my all."

"But, it has become increasingly clear to me that my continuation in the role is distracting from the Government's overall response to COVID-19 and the global pandemic."

The Prime Minister said after the election she plans to "reassess who is best placed" to take the health portfolio forward, should Labour win. 

Dr Clark came under fire recently after Newshub footage showed him pointing blamed at Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield for the Government's quarantine testing botch-up.

Dr Clark also faced backlash during the alert level 4 lockdown for breaching the rules by going mountain biking and driving 20km to the beach for a walk with his family when Kiwis weren't allowed to drive for recreation. 

Newshub also revealed he continued moving house during alert level 4 lockdown, shifting boxes when the rest of New Zealand was told they were not allowed. 

The Prime Minister demoted Dr Clark to the bottom of her Cabinet rankings and stripped him of his Associate Finance portfolio, and said she would have sacked him "under normal conditions". 

In the latest Newshub-Reid Research poll, voters were asked whether Dr Clark should remain Health Minister. More than half - 56.8 percent - said 'no', with only 35.7 percent saying 'yes'.

In Labour's recent reshuffle infectious disease expert Dr Ayesha Verrall - who rose to prominence during the COVID-19 crisis - appeared just one ranking below Dr Clark.

Dr Verrall has not ruled out ambitions for the health portfolio.