Tory candidate says Brexit means 'we can now put North Shropshire first'

He's been a surgeon, a soldier, and a lawyer - pretty good going for somebody who is only 38. He is also a new father, his wife Naomi giving birth to son George just a month ago. And now Dr Neil Shastri-Hurst is hoping to add 'Member of Parliament' to his rather impressive CV.

Conservative candidate for North Shropshire Dr Neil Shastri-Hurst
Conservative candidate for North Shropshire Dr Neil Shastri-Hurst

Dr Shastri-Hurst is the Conservative candidate in the North Shropshire by-election. A Tory stronghold for well over a century, under normal circumstances this would be a dream first constituency for any ambitious young Conservative hopeful.

However, the former hospital consultant from Birmingham – who did some of his medical training at the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital in Gobowen – will not be contesting this election under normal circumstances. The by-election has been called following the resignation of long-serving MP and former cabinet minister Owen Paterson, who had been censured by the Commons standards committee for his lobbying activity. The poll on December 16 will be more than just a snapshot of public opinion in this traditionally true-blue constituency, it will also be a referendum on Boris Johnson's handling of what Labour has portrayed as a sleaze scandal.

"The last few weeks have been bruising," admits Dr Shastri–Hurst, who grew up in the Bourneville area of Birmingham.

"Public confidence with the political system have taken a hit.

"The Prime Minister has come out with strong proposals to strengthen the standards system, and he is looking to do so on a cross-party basis. It shouldn't be about one party, it should be about the whole of politics."

He adds that, if elected, he will not have a second job.

Dr Shastri-Hurst, who comes from a family with strong roots in the health service, says he will be putting the NHS right at the top of his list of priorities.

"My dad was a GP for 40 years, serving the same community, my mum was a nurse and community health visitor. Public service has been at the heart of my life," he says.

Conservative candidate for North Shropshire Dr Neil Shastri-Hurst

While studying at Nottingham University, he joined the Army as a medical cadet, and enrolled at Sandhurst on graduation.

"It was a slightly unusual career path," he says. "I had a real interest in trauma care, and felt a strong sense of duty, I thought it was important that the soldiers who were putting their life on the line had good quality care when they were overseas. It all sounds very old-fashioned, but that's the way I saw it."

After leaving the Army in 2011, Dr Shastri-Hurst went to work for the NHS, doing orthopaedic training at Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt form 2012-13.

"It was a privilege to do my training at such a fantastic hospital, it is world-renowned, something we should be really proud of in North Shropshire," he says.

Dr Shastri-Hurst went on to become a consultant in the major trauma unit at Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth Hospital, but his career in medicine was cut short by a medical condition which affected the senses in his hands. He retrained as a barrister, although he returned to the NHS this year to administer the Covid vaccine.

But while he says the NHS is at the centre of his election plan, he will not be drawn on the issue which has dominated health care in the county for almost a decade. The initial business case for the controversial Future Fit shake-up of health care in the county was presented to the NHS for formal approval earlier this month. The £533 million scheme, which will see the county's emergency provision centred on Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, and Telford's emergency services reduced to an 'A&E local', has been the subject of bitter controversy for a number of years.

Dr Shastri-Hurst says he hopes his medical expertise will bring a fresh perspective to the row, but says it is too early to say whether he supports the proposals.

"I think it would be unwise to rule on it at this stage," he says.

"There are various models that have been put forward, but we need to test those models robustly.

"I want to bring my expertise on this. There are some big decisions to be made, it's got to be right. I can bring a fresh approach, I can bring my expertise, we've got to ensure this is the best model. I go in there with a fresh set of eyes.

"We need to sit down with the trust, and with neighbouring MPs, and work with the Government to get this right. Delivering patient care is the number one priority to me."

Ambulance response times are another issue which has been in the news lately. West Midlands Ambulance Service failed to meet its seven-minute target for attending to major emergencies last month, and there has been mounting criticism of the decision to close the ambulance stations in Market Drayton and Oswestry. Dr Shastri-Hurst does not criticise the closures outright, saying the picture is much more complex. But he says there is a need to look into why the targets have not been met, and how that situation can be improved in future.

"I have written to the chief executive of West Midlands Ambulance Service seeking a meeting about improving patient outcomes in North Shropshire," he says.

"We need to make sure the plans put forward are robust when it comes to bringing those waiting times down. West Midlands Ambulance Service is really hard-working."

Dr Shastri Hurst also cites recruiting more GPs as being among his top priorities, as well as reopening the Oswestry to Gobowen rail line, and converting the A5 north of Shrewsbury into a dual carriageway.

"Farmers need to have the support that helps them farm in a more sustainable way," he says.

"One of the huge benefits of Brexit is that it takes away the top-down rules underpinning all of that, we can now put North Shropshire first.

"Politics can be about change. It's about people and their lives."

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