A wave of public fury about political apointments to the boards of NHS trusts has engulfed the Nolan committee on standards in public life since it was set up by the Prime Minister last year. More complaints have been made to the inquiry about th e Government's flagship health service bodies than any other issue of alleged "sleaze", it was revealed yesterday.
An inquiry spokesman said that "well over a third" of the written substantive submissions received dealt with NHS trusts, a far greater proportion than for more high-profile areas of "sleaze", such as MPs' interests and ex-ministers joining big companies.
Appearing before the committee yesterday, representatives from the trusts also acknowledged the high degree of public concern.
Part of a letter from an anonymous "senior trust source" - the committee protected his or her identity - was read out to them. The mystery whistleblower complained of a selection process that was "highly idiosyncratic" with "personal whim and political patronage" all playing a part.
Dr Chris Robinson, chairman of the Association of Health Authorities and Trusts, the leading trusts' representative body, gave his qualified assent to the grievance. He said there was "anecdotal evidence the selection process is perhaps not as wide as wewould expect".
Dr Robinson called for a shake-up of the selection process, with candidates being vetted by new regional appointments boards and greater training for members in public accountability and improved monitoring.
More radically - and controversially - they also said members of NHS trusts should be surcharged the same as local councillors if they contravened the rules.
Their proposal was echoed by the Audit Commission, which also gave evidence yesterday. Sir David Cooksey, chairman of the commission, said the penalty of surcharging should be extended to central government and all public bodies, including quangos. "The Commission suggests ... that where local government rules are more rigorous, or where sanctions are stronger, there should be a presumption in favour of extending the same principles into government, the NHS, and indeed in other public bodies. The onus should be on those who oppose such measures to show why they are inappropriate." The Commission further suggested: 9Ensuring people are recruited to public bodies only on the basis of merit.
9Developing a code of conduct for all people on public bodies. This needed to be "clear, practical and enforced." Holders of public office should be required to confirm in writing once a year that they have complied with the code. If they make a false statement, they should be penalised.
9Widening the public audit regime to cover all public bodies and publishing accounts of all public bodies.
9Every public body should establish an audit committee to monitor their finances.
9Reducing layers of controls to a minimum. "Bureaucracy is not the answer to problems of corporate governance or failed ventures," it said.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies