Liberal Democrats have had an interesting relationship with the government’s policy of turning NHS hospitals into ‘Foundation Trusts’. When the government first proposed them in 2002, we opposed the legislation in Parliament - so you might expect us to be straightforwardly against them. But in fact the picture is a little more complicated than that - because at the time what we were in fact saying was that the freedoms which the government proposed to give only to Foundation Trust hospitals, in fact ought to be available to all NHS hospitals. And the government’s policy is indeed now that pretty much all NHS trusts should become Foundation Trusts, so you might say that we have had something of a victory there.
A central part of the Foundation Trust (FT) structure is the idea that these hospitals should be more accountable to local people, and less to the national Secretary of State - all of which is of course a good idea and thoroughly in accordance with Lib Dem policy. In practice I think that they fall considerably short of the ideal here: they are supposed to be accountable to local people who have signed up as ‘members’, but typically you need only about 1% of the relevant local population to sign up as members to convince the regulator that you have enough local support to become an FT. The only real benefit of becoming a ‘member’ is that you then get to vote for the members of a hospital council (the precise term varies from hospital to hospital, but they are often called things like a Governors Council or Members Council). Even in these days of low turnout and political interest it is rare to get a turnout of local people, even for local elections, of less then twenty times this, so this is a pretty ultra-lite form of ‘local accountability’.
Nevertheless, this obviously is an attempt to engage local people in running their local hospital, which - as far as it goes - is a good thing. Some Liberal Democrats have therefore, like myself, stood for election to the Council of Governors for their local hospital, and been elected (and when you stand you are obliged, incidentally, to identify yourself as a member of your political party if you are a member of one). Others have been appointed as members of the hospital’s Council by the local authority that they sit on as councillors. And so as a result, up and down the country there are now a range of Liberal Democrats sitting on bodies with some responsibility for their local hospitals. But so far, we don’t quite know who all these people are, and there is no opportunity for them to exchange experiences, good practice and generally support each other. And so to facilitate this, we have set up an email discussion list for Lib Dem governors of NHS Foundation Trusts.
If you are a Lib Dem sitting on such a body, either directly elected by members of the trust, or appointed as a councillor by your council, and would like to be able to exchange ideas with other Liberal Democrats in the same position, please let us know so that we can add you to the list. (In fact even if you would prefer not to go on the email discussion list it would be helpful if you could get in touch so that we can know you exist). Please send an email with your name, email address and hospital you are a governor of, to firstname.lastname@example.org (The list is intended specifically for Lib Dems involved in running Foundation Trusts, not for members of health overview and scrutiny committees)
Also, if you know any Lib Dems who are in this position, please pass this request on to them. We hope this list could be a useful way to provide mutual assistance and support to other Liberal Democrats, and to spread experience and good practice.