Health quangos code `is a sham'

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The Government's new guidelines for appointing members of NHS trusts and health authorities were yesterday dismissed as a sham.

Philip Hunt, director of the National Association of Health Authorities and Trusts, said that the changes would not restore public confidence in the system, which has been attacked as secretive and biased towards Conservative supporters.

Margaret Beckett, Labour health spokeswoman, said: "The new system is a sham because the appointment panel is not independent; regional health authorities will appoint chairmen and the sifting of new candidates will be done by a panel including existing chairmen and non-executives appointed using the discredited present system."

Trust chairmen are currently picked by the Secretary of State on the advice of regional health authority chairmen. The Secretary of State can also appoint up to three (out of a maximum of five) non-executive directors of trust boards. Other non-executive directors are chosen by the regional chairman. Chief executives are picked by the chairman and board of the trust.

From April, the selection of candidates to be non-executive directors will still be made by the chairmen and chairwomen of trusts through a "sifting panel" comprising at least three local chairs or non-executives from a different trust board which may also include an independent member. Regional chairmen will have overall control of the appointments.

Potential trust chairs will be nominated by the regional chairs and selected by ministers. Surveys have shown that five of the eight regional chairmen have strong links with or are supporters of the Tories.

An Independent investigation using names of trust board members obtained by Alan Milburn, Labour MP for Darlington, showed that two-thirds of trust chairmen had clear links to the Tory party - eight were former MPs, 22 were former Tory councillors, 14 had worked for the party, five were spouses of MPs and one was a Tory peer.

In future, routine use will be made of advertising; candidates will be assessed against clear criteria by local sifting panels, reporting to the regional chairmen; procedures for the induction and training of chairmen and non-executives will be set up and NHS regional offices will maintain a database on appointees.

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