Quangos to advertise jobs: Trawl for NHS applicants follows row over 'political' chairs. Nicholas Timmins reports

JOBS ON National Health Service quangos are to be advertised, following controversy over 'political' appointments to health trusts.

Applicants seen as potential chairs or non-executive members of trusts and health authorities will be put on a regional database 'from which we expect the vast majority of appointments to be made,' John Bowis, Health minister, has told Alan Milburn, Labour MP for Darlington.

But he has ruled out publishing the names on the database or listing political affiliations.

Mr Milburn protested yesterday that nothing was being done to make the system more open. 'Ministers clearly believe that jobs for the boys and girls are more important than being accountable in the NHS,' he said.

''So long as appointments continue to be made in secret . . . the system will remain wide open to abuse.'

Mr Milburn's campaign follows evidence of widespread Conservative Party links among health authority members and chairs and embarrassment over the illegal appointment of Anne-Marie Nelson, a Tory party member, as chair of two NHS authorities.

In a letter to Mr Milburn, Mr Bowis says 'our aim is to introduce a more standardised and open approach' to the selection of candidates, ensuring they are 'drawn from a wide range of backgrounds and experience.'

Regional health authority chairmen are now responsible for identifying candidates and 'will be trawling widely for suitable people by means of advertising'.

The names on the databases will not be published, 'in order to protect the identity of people who are under consideration for appointments', and their political affiliation will be neither sought nor published.

'I am sure you would agree that it would be totally unacceptable for private information about political allegiance to be routinely recorded or taken into account in any way,' Mr Bowis said.

However, Mr Milburn said: 'The political affiliation of magistrates is recorded, and what is good enough for magistrates should be good enough for those running the health service.'

Mr Bowis has also refused to rule out dual appointments, where people can sit on more than one NHS body, a position that Mr Milburn argued laid members open to conflicts of interest.