The Sleazy State: How the web of Patronage works / Day 2: Chairs taken by those with direct link to Tories or establishment status: Health Boards

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More than half the National Health Service trust boards in England are chaired by people with direct links to the Conservative Party or who are senior establishment figures, a survey by the Independent has found.

The study, the most detailed of its kind, demonstrates that Tory party activists dominate the leadership of about one-third of health- service trusts. Others are chaired by prominent public figures, former civil servants and recipients of awards under the honours system.

The findings are the most comprehensive evidence of links between unelected trust boards and the Tory party. Analysis of trust chairs' occupations shows that almost half have a business background while fewer than one in 25 have medical training.

Trust chairs are under no obligation to disclose their political activities. However, using a list of NHS trusts obtained from the Department of Health by Alan Milburn, Labour MP for Darlington, it was possible to show that of the 185 trust chairs whose backgrounds were examined in depth, 62 had clear links to the Conservative Party.

Eight were former MPs and candidates for Parliament, among them Lord Hayhoe, the former health minister who retired in 1992 and is now chairman of Guy's and St Thomas's NHS Trust in London, and Anthony Favell, MP for Stockport Central until 1992 and one-time parliamentary private secretary to John Major, who is now chairman of Tameside and Glossop Acute Services NHS Trust.

A total of 22 have served as Tory councillors, including Sir John Cotterell, a farmer and one-time chairman of Hereford and Worcester County Council, and Michael Wheaton, an accountant and former leader of Runnymede Borough Council in Surrey.

Another 14 have worked for the party at a national or local level, five are spouses of leading Conservatives and one is a Tory peer - Lord Glenarthur, chairman of St Mary's Hospital NHS Trust in London.

Of the remainder, nine have high-level links to companies which have made donations to the Tory party - including Adrian White, chairman of Epsom Health Care NHS Trust and of Biwater Ltd, which the Independent yesterday revealed contributed pounds 73,150 to the party in the last 15 years. Three are prominent party supporters.

Another 29 trust leaders are influential figures within the establishment, such as retired senior civil servants, high-ranking members of the armed services, and spouses of business figures.

By contrast, only seven chairs had links with the Labour Party or trade unions, and just one had Liberal Democrat connections.

Many appointees have little experience of the health service. A minority, such as Sheila Taylor, wife of the Tory MP Sir Edward Taylor, have a history of working in the NHS - she is a trained medical social worker.

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