comment: The NHS is too precious to belong to just one party or government

With nearly 1,000 appointments to make to health authority and trust boards over the past year, health secretary Frank Dobson has had ample opportunity to redress the political imbalance in membership and put into place the new, 'fairer' criteria Labour wanted in opposition.

He has seized the first opportunity with both hands. The sheer number of new faces, and the preponderance of Labour supporters among those declaring a political affiliation, is astonishing (see News, page 7). No wonder some of the previous regime's appointees have shrieked so loudly in protest.

Not that anyone would suggest that Mr Dobson has been anything other than scrupulous in following public appointment principles laid down by Lord Nolan. After all, the health secretary tightened up the criteria himself, and who could doubt that the best man or woman has been appointed in each case?

Not that the Conservatives have much cause for complaint. After all, they created the imbalance - and had more Tory MPs made nominations last year, more of their supporters might have been appointed. As it was, Labour MPs were twice as likely as their Conservative counterparts to put names forward.

But in this golden era of government probity, and despite the NHS loyalty test now administered to all would-be non-executives (Do they have a 'strong personal commitment' to the NHS? Are they 'committed to public service values'? ), there must surely still be room to tighten up procedures still further.

Is it right that any board should have most of its non-executives drawn from one party, as does, for example, North Tyneside Health Care trust? Surely not. Is it right that a board member need not declare their party membership if they have not engaged in 'significant activity' on its behalf? Again, surely not.

For all Labour's prior claim as the founding party of the NHS, it is too precious a national asset to be seen as the property of one party or one government.