Examination of Witnesses (Questions 880
THURSDAY 24 OCTOBER 2002
880. Thank you for clearing that up. I am sure
you will think I am being over-sensitive, but I want to come back
to this question about declaring a party political activity. First
of all, I think you said your question asked, "Have you been
undertaking any party political activity over the last five years?"
I think you were in some doubt as to exactly what that meant.
What if I were a paid-up member of a political party?
(Sir William Wells) It is defined. It is local councillor,
MP, MEP, if you were a candidate or if you had been elected, if
you have spoken on behalf of a party or a candidate, acted as
a political agent, held office as a chairman, treasurer, secretary
of a local branch of a party, canvassed on behalf of a party or
helped at an election, or undertaken any other political activity
which you consider relevantthat is a real catch-alland
made a recordable donation to a political party.
881. That means over a certain amount of money,
not just any subscription.
(Sir William Wells) Five thousand pounds.
882. When they are asked to complete that part
of the application form, is there any footnote that would say,
if you do declare political activity, putting it in shorthand,
that this would not necessarily prejudice your chances of success
in this application?
(Dr Moore) There is at the front somewhere.
(Sir William Wells) If there is not, it is a very
good point, if I might say so. We would prefer not to put it in
here. We would prefer not to have this page on the form at all.
883. It may be an obvious thing to say, but
in my experience a pretty high proportion of people who are active
in my community are active because they subscribe to one political
party or another, and in my view, those are the sort of people
that might be useful on these particular bodies.
(Sir William Wells) What it actually saysand
I think we might look at thisis "Neither activity
nor affiliation is a criterion for appointment." That sort
of says what you said, but I think it is something that we might
well look at, because I think it is a very powerful point. I would
be delighted, as would all my commissioners, if part 7 of this
form could be ditched, because it is introducing into the application
form something which we are saying is irrelevant to the appointment
process, and to that extent you are absolutely right; it does
actually produce an unnecessary tension. So I think that is very
useful and we will certainly look at that.
884. It does not ask you about membership, does
(Dr Moore) No.
885. So you can be a fervent supporter of a
political party, reflected in your membership of that party, as
longas you do not do anything about it.
(Sir William Wells) Providing you do not give more
than £5,000 a year.
886. There is an absurdity about that, is there
(Dr Moore) I think this is a question that has been
debated with the Nolan Committee in the past and they came to
(Sir William Wells) It is not our formulation.
887. Sir Sydney Chapman's point though is, of
course, a good one, which is that if you are looking for civic
spirit in the community, you will disproportionately find that
amongst people who belong to political parties, and so to give
any indication on your literature that somehow this might be a
disadvantage would be extremely unfortunate.
(Sir William Wells) Quite the reverse. I think we
need to be more explicit here that this actually plays no part
in the appointment process. I am indebted to you, because I think
it is a very good point.
Sir Sydney Chapman
888. Is there any age limit for applicants?
(Sir William Wells) No. You can always make an application,
but you would have to stand down as an MP.
889. I am intrigued: at the back of your memorandum
it says "take appropriate measures to terminate the appointment
of chairs and non-executives if their performance fails to meet
the requirements of the post." How do you do that if it is
a PCT? Do you go wading in? Who fires them?
(Sir William Wells) As the Commission makes the appointments,
it is the organisation that makes the disappointments legally,
and we do that at the Board. The Board decides that somebody's
post will be terminated. We have the ability to do that. The words
are that they are not acting in the best interests of the National
Health Service. In fact, it is slightly more expanded now than
that. In practice, what happens is that the Regional Commissioner
will work very closely with the chairman of the strategic health
authority, who is the performance manager of the trusts within
their particular area. It will be a team of those two who will
come to the decision as to whether a person should have their
post brought to an end or not, and in which case a recommendation
will come up to the Board of the NHS Appointments Commission.
890. Who sets the criteria for removal? Do you?
(Sir William Wells) Yes. It is set in their appointment
891. Is it set ultimately by the Minister or
(Sir William Wells) No; by us.
892. So if somebody has a fundamental disagreement
with the direction of, say, a PCTI have no example in mindand
they say, "Look, I have a fundamental problem because I think
this is clinically wrong," and they are somebody who has
been put there because of their excellence, how can they arbitrarily
check that in fact what they are doing is not to the detriment
of the PCT? Can you be involved to say, "No, I do not think
they should be removed"?
(Sir William Wells) We are the only people who can
893. So you would say, "I am terribly sorry.
I think this person is doing the right thing. They stay."
(Sir William Wells) I have to say we have quite a
lot of cases like that.
894. What so far has been the outcome on average?
(Sir William Wells) In the vast majority of cases
we manage to make people see sense, or we get some counselling
or mentoring to the particular person if they are perhaps being
a little bit extreme and not playing a sensible part in a team.
I do not know the numbers, but we do not actually disappoint huge
numbers of people. With almost all of the people that we disappoint
it is either because they have simply not complied with the terms
of their appointmentlike not turning up to meetings and
things like thator they have created such a degree of dysfunctionality
on the board through their own performance that it is in the best
interests of the NHS.
895. Have you had a situation yetI know
you are fairly newwhere you have a major part of a board
who agree with a course of action which is actually not what the
chairman thinks should happen?
(Sir William Wells) We do have cases.
896. Have you had to remove an entire board
(Sir William Wells) No.
897. But you have removed major parts of boards?
(Sir William Wells) We have removed a chairman and
a number of non-executives, yes, particularly in badly performing
898. When you replace them, what overall role
do you have to make sure that that board gets back up and running
to an efficiency which is acceptable to you and to the Minister?
(Sir William Wells) That is a very good point. Can
I give an example? Bath is the worst performing trust in the country.
We removed the Chairman and one or two or three of the non-executives.
We have just put a new Chairman in there and the Regional Commissioner
for the South, together with the Chairman of the strategic health
authority is down there a huge amount of the time in order to
ensure that support, help and training is introduced in order
to get that board up and running again very quickly.
899. The Bath question is an interesting one,
because patients from my constituency go to Bath. It is of great
concern, because it is not the strategic health authority we are
covered by. We are Dorset and Somerset. There is great concern
across the border as to what is going on there. Until that is
up and running, the concern will continue as to whether they should
(Sir William Wells) That is absolutely right. We appointed
a new Chairman last weekif it is in your part of the world,
you will have a letter telling youwho we think will be
very good. Your point is that we need to restore confidence as
quickly as we possibly can. The people who can restore confidence
to the public generally better than anybody else are the non-executives.
The executives you have to have in the trenches, doing the business.