It is unclear how far government Health Bill changes will go in forcing foundation trusts and clinical commissioning groups to hold public board meetings.
The NHS Future Forum review panel said both should be open. Currently meeting in public and publishing minutes is optional for foundation trusts’ boards of directors, and many choose not to.
The government’s original Health Bill made no requirement on commissioning consortia.
It tabled proposed changes to the legislation yesterday.
One amendment says foundation trusts’ constitutions, “must provide for meetings of the board of directors to be open to members of the public… But the constitution may provide for members of the public to be excluded from a meeting for special reasons”.
In relation to CCGs (the new name for consortia), the amendments require their constitution to “include provision for meetings of governing bodies to be open to the public, except where the consortium considers that it would not be in the public interest to permit members of the public to attend a meeting or part of a meeting”.
Bevan Brittan LLP partner David Owens said it was unclear if the amendments required openness in the same way as it is applied to NHS trusts and PCTs, which have been made subject to the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960.
That act also requires named public bodies to make documents available and allow access for the press.
Mr Owens said in relation to the foundation trust amendment: “It should be tied down a little more – for example [any exclusion of the public] being linked to what is on the agenda, and that there is good reason for excluding the public.
“Just putting ‘special reasons’ without a suggestion of what that means seems a little bit dangerous.” He queried why the government has not just “used the 1960 Act” to secure openness.
Health Bill: government publishes 181 amendments
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Health Bill: rules unclear on open board meetings