Health Minister David Clark has resigned as Health Minister after he became an "unhelpful distraction" in the fight against Covid-19.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has accepted his resignation and said it was "essential our health leadership has the confidence of the New Zealand public."

Clark said it had been an "extraordinary privilege" and he had given it his all.

But continuing was distracting from the Government's Covid response, he said.

Advertisement

He wasn't pushed, he said.

"The decision was mine."

He looked forward to having more time to serving his electorate of Dunedin North, and he intended to stand in the seat again in September.

PM Jacinda Ardern said last week she "had discussions" with David Clark and how the primary focus should be the Government's response to Covid-19. Clark tendered his resignation to Ardern yesterday which was accepted.

He had already offered to resign over his beach excursion during the lockdown, which Ardern would have accepted were it not for the need for continuity in the Covid crisis.

"I take full responsibility for decisions made and taken during my time as Minister of Health," Clark said today.

He said the team had to come first and the Covid response was too important, so he had made the call to step aside.

With no community transmission and the focus now on the border measures, "it is appropriate for me to move on".

"What I wanted to see was that transition through to a stable footing because I believed that was the important thing. That indeed was what the Prime Minister pointed to when she didn't accept my resignation when I first put it.

Advertisement

"We've got to that position now. So the time is right."

He thanked the frontline health workers and all Kiwis who made sacrifices to put New Zealand in a position to be the envy of the world.

"Now is the right time to hand over the reins."

Clark entered Parliament in 2011, replacing retiring Dunedin North MP Pete Hodgson.

Appointed Health Minister when Labour won the 2017 election, he oversaw two reviews: the inquiry into mental health and addiction services, and Heather Simpson's review of the overall health system.

On a personal note, he said he had "mixed feelings" about leaving the portfolio and was proud of many achievements including putting more resources into public health.

Advertisement

He had some personal regret about not being able to continue to drive improvements, but he was also looking forward to having more time in his electorate.

"I love being a constituent MP."

He will be stepping down from Cabinet.

'Unhelpful distraction'

The Prime Minister said in a statement that "David Clark contacted me yesterday to confirm his wish to resign as a Minister and I accepted that resignation".

"David has come to the conclusion his presence in the role is creating an unhelpful distraction from the Government's ongoing response to Covid-19 and wider health reforms," Ardern said.

"It's essential our health leadership has the confidence of the New Zealand public. As David has said to me the needs of the team must come before him as an individual.

Advertisement

"I am appointing Chris Hipkins as Health Minister until the election.

"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.

"Post-election I intend to reassess who is best placed to take the health portfolio forward."

Health system 'needs rebuilding'

The health system needed to be rebuilt following the review from Heather Simpson, and it was a good time for new leadership, Clark said.

"It's been a busy but rewarding three years ... but it hasn't all been plain sailing."

Clark had been under increasing pressure to step down, but he had been repeatedly backed by Ardern, even though she said she would have sacked him over his lockdown breaches if she hadn't needed continuity in the Covid response.

Advertisement

Clark was demoted after driving his family 20km to a beach to go for a walk in the first weekend of the lockdown.

He had also gone mountain biking during the lockdown, though that was not as clear a breach of the rules as driving to the beach.

He also came under intense pressure over the bungles at the border in recent weeks, and was the subject of public criticism over video footage that went viral as he seemed to throw director general of health Ashley Bloomfield under the bus as Bloomfield was standing behind him.

"I want to put on record again that it has been an honour to work alongside the director general of health Ashley Bloomfield," Clark said today.

A spokesman for Bloomfield said the director general of health didn't comment on matters of a political nature and he would not be commenting on Clark's resignation.

Health Minister David Clark and the Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Health Minister David Clark and the Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Clark said Ardern understood why he wanted to "put the team first".

Advertisement

"We don't need the distraction at the moment."

Asked whether the viral video last week had been the nail in his coffin, Clark said he had always been clear about his "deep respect" for Bloomfield.

Asked about that video again, he said the "whole context" was important.

"I wanted to see that transition through to a stable footing," he said when asked why he didn't resign during the streak of zero cases weeks ago.

"We've got to the position now."

Muller reacts

National leader Todd Muller told Newstalk ZB's Chris Lynch his party had been calling for Clark's resignation, and welcomed it.

Advertisement

"Ultimately he had a job to do on behalf of the Government and on behalf of the people of this country.

"It is our view that he did not deliver that to the standards that we expected, neither through the lockdown or the border management in recent weeks which has been utterly shambolic.

"As difficult as that announcement was for him, it is the right thing to do and should really have occurred several weeks ago."

READ MORE:
Health Minister David Clark stands by his comments, criticising Health boss Ashley Bloomfield
Health Minister David Clark's Wikipedia entry edited following controversy with Dr Ashley Bloomfield
David Clark's treatment of Ashley Bloomfield is a 'disgrace', says National leader Todd Muller
Health Minister David Clark throws Dr Ashley Bloomfield under the bus - as he stands right behind him

Clark has repeatedly said the responsibility for the failure to test people before they left managed isolation or before being granted compassionate leave lay with Bloomfield, who accepted responsibility.

Ardern also said that neither she nor Clark were responsible for the failings at the border that allowed the two women with Covid-19 to leave their hotel room without first being tested.

Advertisement

She said at the time that ministers understood that the proper protocols were being applied to the women, including being tested before being allowed to leave on compassionate grounds.