Chairs and non-executive directors of hospital and primary care trusts that have lost the confidence of their local communities could face suspension in future.

A strategic review by the NHS Appointments Commission has proposed that it is given the new power because "events at a number of trusts over recent years have reinforced the need for such powers".

Commission chief executive Andrea Sutcliffe said the power was intended to be neutral, allowing for further investigations.

She said the proposals were not a direct result of the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells trust infection outbreak, adding: "Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells points up the difficulties, but they had already been thought about as part of this review."

The plans were broadly welcomed by Roseanne Corben, chair of the NHS Alliance's non-executive network. But she said the review had not addressed non-executives' workload. "I don't think it recognises the enormous commitment [such directors] give - way above two-and-a-half days a month," she said.

The review outlines:

  • a fast-track process where it is felt necessary to terminate a non-excutive's appointment speedily;

  • a new process for suspending non-executives while investigations continue. This could include cases where public confidence has been lost, where there are criminal allegations and where public safety is involved;

  • more induction training for new non-executive directors and im-proved appraisals;

  • ways in which strategic health authorities will play a greater role in providing ongoing training and development of non-executives in future;

  • greater efforts to encourage diversity among non-executives, including forming more proactive links with minority communities;

  • how to explore ideas for "increasing democratic engagement in public appointments".

The Department of Health is consulting on the suspension powers, as this would require secondary legislation. If agreed, the new powers could be in place by late spring.

Ms Sutcliffe said there was a feeling that SHAs should have a role in training and development, especially given their ability to carry out "whole board" training for both executives and non-executives. "But we want to make sure by liaising with the SHAs that the needs of non-executives and chairmen are still being met."

So far, 78 people have applied to fill vacant non-executive roles at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells trust after an advertising campaign.