HC Deb 28 July 1998 vol 317 cc163-5
10. Mr. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham)

What meetings his Department held with members or representatives of local authorities prior to the June 1997 trawl for nominations to NHS trust boards; and if he will make a statement. [50985]

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Frank Dobson)

So far as I know, the only meeting with local authority representatives at which nominations to NHS boards was discussed was an official meeting on 12 May involving myself and other Ministers and official representatives of the Local Government Association.

Mr. Loughton

Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to confirm that last year's scandal of Labour activists constituting 80 per cent. of board appointments to trusts—as confirmed by the Commissioner for Public Appointments—is a thing of the past? If political correctness is no longer an overriding concern when it comes to appointments in the national health service, can the Secretary of State explain how, although the chairman of the West Sussex health authority recently approved and offered 14 names to fill a vacant board appointment on the West Sussex health authority—all of them male—the Secretary of State managed to appoint a woman?

Mr. Dobson

I will make a start. Following the precedent set by the House of Commons some five or six years ago when we appointed 100 per cent. of the Speaker as a woman, I tried my best to ensure that at least half the appointments to NHS trust boards and health authority boards were women. We have achieved that target and I am proud to have done so. If the chair of the health authority—I forget which one—to which the hon. Gentleman referred could not come up with one woman out of 14 names, he should have his head seen to.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is extremely important that local authorities and health authorities work closely together if we are to achieve a seamless system of health and community care? I particularly commend to him the experience in my constituency, where the unitary council worked closely with the health authority with regard to the winter crisis money and, between them, effectively reduced the problems in the area and helped a number of elderly people to obtain more appropriate treatment with support in the community. Is it not reasonable that such co-operation between local authorities and health authorities should be reflected in appointments to health authority boards?

Mr. Dobson

It is true that one reason for appointing at least a number of members of local authorities to health boards is to improve the liaison between the two, but elected members and appointed non-executives should not be the main channel for such liaison. Liaison at an official level must be improved, and that is one reason why we propose that, in future, the chief executive of a local authority should be expected to attend and participate in, but not vote at, the board meetings of the health authority. Such co-operation is necessary.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

When the right hon. Gentleman addressed the annual meeting of the Association of Community Health Councils for England and Wales on 9 July last year he said: At the General Election we promised that we would make sure that the boards of health authorities and trusts would be more representative of the local communities they serve. Why then is there no longer a representative of general practitioners on the Shropshire health authority? Why then is there no longer a representative from the Ludlow constituency on the Shropshire health authority? Why is it that 50 per cent. of representatives on the Shropshire health authority are from the socialist stronghold of Telford? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] There is more to come, Madam Speaker. Why is it that the last two appointments to the Shropshire health authority were Labour councillors? When does the Secretary of State intend to address those problems and reply to my letter of 13 July?

Mr. Dobson

When I set about making the appointments about which the hon. Gentleman complains, I was addressing the problem of significantly unrepresentative boards appointed by our predecessors. In case anyone says that I am justifying myself, the Commissioner for Public Appointments, who was appointed by the previous Government and served in a senior position in the NHS as an appointee of the previous Government, has endorsed, in his Official Report, all that we have been doing, and has recognised that we have carried out the obligation that we entered into at the general election to make the boards more representative of local people. That is what we said we would do and that is what we are doing.

The hon. Gentleman raises one relevant point, which is that where health authorities cover a substantial area it is sometimes difficult to obtain representation which covers each part of the area, a matter which I am trying to deal with. It is interesting to note that I am the first Secretary of State to ask for a map of each area showing whence each representative comes. None of my predecessors bothered to look.