HC Deb 05 July 1994 vol 246 cc139-40
8. Mr. Milburn

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what changes she is proposing to the system of appointments to NHS authorities.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

The system of appointing chairmen to NHS authorities is largely unchanged, and has been supported by successive Governments. We are introducing further improvements to make the system more standardised and open to support our objective of attracting people of the highest quality on to health authorities and trusts.

Mr. Milburn

Is the Secretary of State aware that the appointments that she has made to both health authorities and trust boards have made them less and less representative of the communities that they are supposed to serve? When will she abandon the process of making such appointments in secret, behind closed doors, so that credibility can be restored to a system that has lost all public confidence—or does she believe that jobs for the boys and jobs for the girls are more important than public accountability in the national health service?

Mrs. Bottomley

Public service is the key criterion that I consider when making appointments to NHS authorities and trusts. Like a number of other hon. Members, I spent many years as a magistrate and chairman of a court. No one thought that that was a political appointment; it was made after careful vetting. The same applies to health authority appointments.

Unless the hon. Gentleman is trying to reopen the argument between Herbert Morrison and Nye Bevan, which was put to bed 46 years ago, I suggest that he ensure that members of his party no longer put the frighteners on Labour people who wish to serve on trusts and health authorities, to make certain that we have good people from all political parties serving the interests of the public.

Mr. Hayes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the appointment of wicked Tories such as Rabbi Julia Neuberger and the former Labour Member of Parliament, Helene Hayman as chairmen of trusts shows that the hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense?

Mrs. Bottomley

My hon. Friend is right. If the Labour party wishes to hark back, I do not think that the health service benefited from the appointment of the disqualified Lambeth councillors to the local health authority, or from that of the three prospective parliamentary candidates by Greenwich Labour party to its local health authority.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones

Does not the Minister accept that there would be far more confidence in the system that she propounds if there were much more local discussion about the kind of appointments that should be made, rather than the process appearing to take place behind closed doors? Openness should be part of the right hon. Lady's policy.

Mrs. Bottomley

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. That is why, based on best practice, we are ensuring that in every region there is a process of open advertisement and nominations, including self-nominations, are encouraged. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members will look for people with the skill, expertise and commitment to help us to take forward the extremely important NHS reforms.