First health board elections in Scotland on the way

By Gilly Mathieson
Reporter, Politics Show Scotland

Image caption,
The Scottish government wants to put the public at the heart of NHS decision-making

It's election time again - well, in Dumfries and Galloway and Fife where voters are electing members to their health boards.

It's part of a Scottish government pilot costing almost £3m, which aims to make health boards more accountable to their communities.

But, when health boards across Scotland are having to make cuts to frontline services, are these elections the only way to give local people a say in how their health service is run?

Voters in Fife will have to decide what fits best when they vote in the first health board elections next week.

The Scottish government believes these pilot elections will allow the public to be at the heart of the process, but voters will have a lot of names to choose from and no labels to guide them.

Prof John Curtice, of Strathclyde University, said: "They're going to be faced with a ballot paper containing some 60 or 70 names.

"They are not going to be given any help so far as these candidates being standing under any particular party label. They're all standing as individuals.

"They each have made individual statements about why they're standing and voters have to work out which of those 60 or 70 candidates they most prefer.

"And beyond that actually to put those candidates in rank order. That's a fairly substantial task - one that I suspect many voters will find rather difficult."

For the first time, 16 and 17-year-olds will be able to participate in an election and some young people have been encouraging their peers to vote in schools across the region.

Maggie Jamieson, of Adam Smith College, said: "Trying to read every statement then trying to work out who you're going to vote for is quite a challenge."

Amy Farmer, of Kirkcaldy High School, added: "People at our school have showed an interest in it, 16 and 17-year-olds and I think quite a few of them will go out and vote."

With the cost of capital, such as the PFI charges, rising well above inflation, the elected representatives will sit on health boards which will be faced with difficult choices.

Tough choices

But some in the field believe this is not the time to pilot this and question whether greater public involvement will actually lead to the strengthening of public accountability.

Dr Brian Keighley, chairman of BMA Scotland, said: "We have, at the moment, health board members, who are appointed under Nolan principles. They are accountable to the cabinet secretary.

"The cabinet secretary is accountable to parliament and parliament at the end of the day is accountable to the electorate of Scotland, so I'm not sure this is a good idea and we have major concerns about how many people will vote and on what basis and on what logic they will vote."

At a cost of almost £3m and with the new elected members eligible for £8,000 each, the pilots come at time when thousands of health workers are losing their jobs - but the government says these elections are an important step in bringing power back to local people.

No-one quite knows what the outcome will be, but whoever represents the people of Fife and Dumfries will have to make some tough choices which could be a hard to sell to their electorate.

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