Scotland politics

Scottish health board elections abandoned

hospital ward
Image caption Health board elections were piloted to improve confidence in the NHS

The Scottish government is to abandon the idea of directly elected health boards.

The idea was introduced by ministers to improve public confidence in the NHS, but a pilot of the move resulted in low voter turnout.

Ministers said a different pilot scheme, involving wider advertising of board positions, attracted a wider range of candidates.

It also involved changes to the application process for boards.

In the 2007 election, the SNP pledged to introduce elected health boards, citing concern that health authorities had not always properly listened to local views when considering changes to services.

Pilot elections were held in Fife and Dumfries and Galloway in 2010, in which 16 and 17-year-olds were allowed to vote for the first time.

'Local accountability'

But turnout was low, with fewer than one in five voting in Dumfries and Galloway, and one in 10 in Fife.

Health Secretary Alex Neil said: "This pilot project was designed to ensure that the views of local people about their NHS are heard effectively, and to encourage them to be more involved in how the health service is run.

"These pilots have demonstrated that the most effective approach was a pro-active approach from boards to advertising and recruiting to posts. I am confident that these new measures will help to increase public engagement and improve local accountability.

"I have now asked health boards across Scotland to look at these pilots with a view to expanding their own recruitment process for health board members.

"I am confident that these measures will help to increase public engagement and improve local accountability more effectively than when we tested direct elections as part of the pilot."

Most of Scotland's NHS authorities either opposed or had doubts about direct elections to their health boards.

Some health bosses previously said the move could destabilise boards by pulling them into party politics, but the Scottish government said the concerns were not well-founded.

Nicola Sturgeon, who was health secretary when proposals were being discussed in 2008, said at the time that the scheme was "massively popular".

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Jim Hume the pilot schemes had been a "costly shambles".

He added: "Despite widespread concern, SNP ministers spent £773,000 on two pilots for directly elected health boards before performing a u-turn and abandoning the plans entirely.

"Scottish Liberal Democrats have always questioned the effectiveness of direct health board elections.

"With this wasteful venture now abandoned SNP ministers must get on with looking at more reasonable ways to improve the accountability of health boards, including using greater input from already-elected councillors."

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