Clause 60 - Commission to assist other bodies with appointments

Health Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:30 pm on 10th January 2006.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Secretary of State for Health

I am quite interested in this matter, not least because Papworth hospital foundation trust is in the throes of appointing a new chairman. In discussion about the process, I was interested to learn that the trust was not in a position to use the NHS Appointments Commission as a structure to assist it. From that point of view, it would have been helpful if the provision had already been in place to allow that to happen. I do not know what is available on an informal basis to help.

Can I take it that in the not-distant future hospitals across the country will be able to use the commission in the appointment of chairmen and other non-executive directors, although they will be under no obligation to do so? If they use the commission, will they be able to do so on the basis that it will be able to undertake such advisory and other arrangements as they determine? Will it have to delegate the functions or will it be simply advisory? If they use the commission, how will the financing work? We have just approved the schedule that allows the commission to be funded by the Government. Does that extend to the commission being able to undertake advisory activities and support the appointments of foundation trusts in a way that is subsidised from the support to the commission, or will such activities be rechargeable back to foundation trusts?

I take it that the fact that foundation trusts can use the commission does not mean that they will be required to do so. Can we have it on the record that the boards of governors of foundation trusts will have the discretion whether or not to use the commission to make such appointments?

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Shadow Minister (Health)

The title of the clause is ''Commission to assist other bodies with appointments'', and something occurred to me while we were cantering through. We all subscribe, I am sure, to patient involvement in the NHS. I regularly receive from various bodies the minutes of the two patients forums that scrutinise the work of the two primary care trusts that cover my constituency as well as the two acute trusts. Often those meetings discuss important matters and are seen as valid consultation of the community, but they are sometimes thinly attended. Clearly, the chair of the organisation is a lay person and has important role in the community. It is not clear how such chairs are selected or screened. Is it envisaged that the new NHS Appointments Commission will have a role in making sure that the chairs of the various patients forums that undertake   such important work have gone through a process? Perhaps the Minister will write to me. Will the patients forums receive advice to make sure that they recruit their chairs openly so that anyone from the community can apply and take part?

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

I hope that I can clarify the position. Under clause 60, the commission can in future enter into arrangements, contractual or otherwise, to provide boards of governors of foundation trusts with such assistance or support as they may request when appointing chairmen and non-executive directors. The board of governors of the foundation trusts will continue to make the appointment. Such matters have arisen from recent discussions when, for example, the NHS Appointments Commission has sometimes been asked to provide recruitment and other advice not only to organisations such as Monitor but to Government Departments. The facility will give powers to the commission to provide such services, but it will be up to the foundation trust to decide whether it wants an assessment of the services that it provides.

The facility will be on a cost-recovery basis, so the foundation trust, for example, would be charged. However, providing the service will be non-profit making.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Secretary of State for Health

I wish to satisfy my curiosity. The Minister will recall that, under the 2003 legislation, there are circumstances in which Monitor, the independent regulator of foundation trusts, can step in and replace executive directors. If I recall correctly, other members of the board of directors of a foundation trust may be chairmen or non-executive directors. If Monitor steps in, is it required to use the commission or could it exercise the powers of the board of governors under its special measures regime?

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

I understand that it is not a requirement for Monitor to use the NHS Appointments Commission, but it can seek its support and advice. Clearly, in its own right it has its own rules and responsibilities as a regulator for NHS foundation trusts and powers to enable it to carry out such work.

I shall write to the hon. Gentleman about the governance of boards of foundation trusts rather than prolong this afternoon's proceedings.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

Sorry; patients forums. I shall check Hansard to make sure that the hon. Gentleman receives the accurate information that he requested.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 60 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 61 to 66 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 7 agreed to.

Clauses 67 to 69 ordered to stand part of the Bill.