Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)



  80. Let me ask another question, Sir William, because this involves you directly. On 5 December 2001 you met the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Miss Hazel Blears. She said in the House of Commons on the same day: "When I met Sir William Wells today, I asked that the procedures connected with Members of Parliament be examined to ensure that they are efficient and effective. On occasion, not only have Members of Parliament not been notified that vacancies have occurred, and that they should draw the advertisement to people's attention, but they have not been notified when an appointment has been made. I am anxious to ensure that all Members of Parliament are properly notified of appointments. They are important positions in any community, and local Members of Parliament must be kept up-to-date. I stressed that to Sir William Wells."
  (Sir William Wells) I stand corrected. Dr Moore's memory was better than mine. You are absolutely right. The occasion was not actually related to the appointments and it was about something quite different.

  81. It might be about something quite different, Sir William, but presumably this matter came up or she would not have said that.
  (Sir William Wells) She brought it up—you are absolutely right. I think she had a complaint from one of her constituents. What we had already set in train was in addition to the notification of all MPs of posts when they came up, which had been working effectively. We had not been nearly as good as we should have been in notifying MPs of appointments made, and we have been very honest about that. The machinery was not as good as it should have been, and we are now very clear. Dr Moore and his staff are very clear as to what has to be done. We have to synchronise it. It is quite a difficult task and not totally straightforward because the local trusts make the public announcement about appointments. I said that I believed that MPs should know simultaneously with the public announcements so that they are not caught on the hop if somebody rings them up and makes a comment. That is sometimes quite difficult because we are not able to let them know in advance, because otherwise we go against the Rennie Fritchie report, so we let you know simultaneously with the announcement. We are endeavouring to do our very best to make sure that that happens in every single case. I have to say that I am very conscious of that. I have had a number of your colleagues on the phone, incandescent that they have been caught out by the press. All I can say is, "hands up"; we have not been as good as we could have been.

John Austin

  82. The procedure is, properly, that Members of Parliament should be notified when there is a vacancy, and they should be notified when the vacancy has been filled.
  (Sir William Wells) Correct.

  83. In that sense, is it not reasonable for the minister to raise that procedural issue with you to ensure that it happens?
  (Sir William Wells) Yes, that is perfectly reasonable.

  84. There is nothing sinister in it. Mr Burns was—
  (Sir William Wells) No, nothing sinister.

Mr Burns

  85. I was not suggesting it was sinister.

  86. We went there to talk directly about appointments.

  87. I was not suggesting there was anything sinister at all. What threw me was your answer, which directly contradicted what the Minister said in a debate on 5 December.
  (Sir William Wells) You were quite right to jog my memory.

Andy Burnham

  88. I was certainly consulted about the criteria you were going to use. You mentioned about increasing the use of local criteria. Is that something that will carry on? Is it your intention to consult Members of Parliament at that stage, when local criteria have been drawn up for both chairs and non-executives?
  (Sir William Wells) The answer is that we will agree from time to time with the Secretary of State the generic criteria for non-executive directors. It is then up to the local trust to talk about non-executive directors, together with strategic health authorities, to agree the more local aspects to the appointment. That is up to them. They will not involve MPs and they will not involve anybody else, otherwise they could be into discussing it with everybody.

  89. Would you suggest that they do?
  (Sir William Wells) I do not think it is up to us to make any particular rules about this—and I am choosing my words carefully.

Jim Dowd

  90. On the question of involvement of MPs, precious creatures that they are, how do you decide which MPs to involve? I give you this as a suggestion. I have stayed fairly close to Lewisham Hospital, for example, because it shares the name of my constituency. However, my constituents might go to King's, Guy's or Thomas's; and there is the Mental Health Trust and others. I have never really had any information from them heretofore at all. How do you decide?
  (Dr Roger Moore) We have a list. It is not necessarily an accurate list, but it is the best estimate that we can make for each MP in the area and the organisations that their constituents might use that we have put together. There is no particular science behind it; it is simply our best shot. I do not know how we could refine that list because, quite frankly, we were quite happy to involve any MPS who wished to be involved with a particular institution, but it is incredibly difficult to do, specifically with the London teaching hospitals that draw in patients from the whole of the South-East, if not further north as well.

  91. Why do you not do a weekly newsletter with them all in and send them to everybody?
  (Dr Roger Moore) the difficulty with that is that you would blunt the whole exercise, and people would tend not to notice when their own organisations were there.


  92. You have recently written to all MPS, but you could write to them asking them to respond to the trusts they are involved with. It would be difficult if your constituents are in Yorkshire.
  (Sir William Wells) We could do that, Chairman. I have had many of your colleagues on to me, making exactly the reverse point: "Why the heck are you bothering me with all these letters about trusts which I did not even know were in existence?" Maybe we should write and ask which health authorities they want to be notified about.

Mr Burns

  93. In regard to something Mr Burnham raised, I was fascinated to hear that his trust consults with him on the criteria for looking for applicants. I must say, in 15 years, my trust has never approached me about criteria for applicants, and I wonder, whether one likes it or not, the impression that is abroad in the country at the moment about the workings of your Commission and also the Secretary of State under a previous regime before July last year—and we will be getting on to your record and the Secretary of State's—that it does seem slightly weird to hear that a Member of Parliament, and maybe some others, are being consulted on criteria for what a trust should be looking for in the appointment of someone, but it is not uniform throughout the country. It tends to add an impression that this is not the most transparent or necessarily the most independent way of then going ahead and appointing someone. If you ask a Member of Parliament for criteria, depending on where that Member of Parliament comes from and on how powerful or not the Member is in his area—and it does vary from party to party and from country to country—they could have quite a significant input into influencing the criteria that would then influence people that the Member of Parliament might want to see appointed, or the type of person the Member of Parliament might want to see appointed.
  (Sir William Wells) I take the point you are making, but, as I said, as far as we are concerned, there are generic criteria which the trusts are required to appoint to. If they have particular skill gaps or the like which they want to fill, then they are able to highlight those in the appointment process for the specific role, but the committees that sift and interview have to, and only can, score those people against the national criteria.

  94. Mr Burnham was saying that he had been consulted by his trust for advice on the criteria before appointing someone.
  (Sir William Wells) I am not quite sure what Mr Burnham means about the criteria. All I can say is that the committees, the sift panels and the interview panels—and this is very clear—can only assess against national criteria.

  95. Sir William, let me try again. You, assume—and I suspect rightly—want to try to get your organisation out of the mire that it is in at the moment—through no fault of your own, and I am not blaming you personally. The system has tainted the process, and we will see shortly the statistical records reinforce the belief that it is badly tainted. If that is the case, then surely it is in your interests to improve the reputation and the belief in independence of your body, if the system is cleansed as much as possible? You may not have powers in certain areas, like what trusts do in seeking the advice of Members of Parliament, or the criteria of who they should be looking for for an appointment, but surely, if this is going on, and if you were to believe that going to Members of Parliament—who are, after all, now being stopped from recommending people—then to help the cleansing process, surely you would have a view? You might want to enhance the reputation of your body and seek to persuade the Secretary of State or the Chief Executive of the NHS that that sort of procedure by trusts should stop. (Sir William Wells) Let me first of all say that I have no evidence that it happens.

  96. You have got proof from the horse's mouth.
  (Sir William Wells) I have not actually allowed Mr Burnham to tell me what it was that he was saying.

  Mr Burns: You will know what he said to you, unless I have misheard. He said, "I was asked by my Trust for advice on the criteria when they were looking for someone to be appointed".

  Chairman: Andy, would you like to clarify the issue?

  Mr Burns: What did you say?

  Andy Burnham: I do not believe I said "by my Trust". I said I believed that there was a letter from yourself, I think.

  Mr Burns: From the Appointments Commission itself.

  Chairman: Can we just let him speak?

Andy Burnham

  97. I think it was more along the lines of notification of the process, and it was also inviting comments on the process, I believe, some letter like that.
  (Dr Moore) The letter that I write to all MPs before the beginning of any campaign is simply to draw their attention to a vacancy at the Trust and the fact that an advertisement has been placed in the local paper on such-and-such a date, enclosing the advertisement and inviting you to draw it to the attention of any of your constituents.

  98. But also asking to comment on the—
  (Dr Moore) No.

  99. Why not?
  (Dr Moore) Because it is a done deal by then. By the time the advertisement has gone in everything—
  (Sir William Wells) By the time MPs are notified of a vacancy the criteria for the vacancy, including any additional skills required to the normal national ones, have already been decided upon because you get a copy of the advertisement.

  Andy Burnham: Just to be absolutely clear, that is the letter that I was referring to. It was a notification of the process and it was a specific job advertisement for my particular Trust, so it was not just the national criteria. It was a job advertisement for that particular job.

  Mr Burns: Can I suggest, Chairman, that we will presumably in a few days' time have an unedited transcript of these things because, unless I am going deaf, I heard, because I was surprised, Mr Burnham say that he had been asked for advice on the criteria—

  Julia Drown: It does not matter though, does it?

  Mr Burns: Yes, it does.

  Julia Drown: No.

  Chairman: We can clarify that, I think.

  Dr Naysmith: If we can get to something that is actually much more important, if less exciting,—

  Mr Burns: Speak for yourself.


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