Party bias 'rife' in appointments. . . Eric Caines is personnel director. . . Scottish Office sends in team of six. . . Priority services 'underfunded'. . .

Party political bias is rife in the latest appointments of health authority chairs, according to shadow health secretary Robin Cook. Conservative Party and business interests dominate the new appointees. Mr Cook said only four Labour figures had survived, and in North East Thames region, three out of four new chairs were Tory councillors.

Philip Hunt, director of the National Association of Health Authorities, said: 'The white paper talks about making the NHS more business-like, so the government would look to appoint people from the business world.'

Eric Caines is to be the new personnel director on the NHS Management Executive. He is currently director of operations at the Department of Social Security. He began his civil service career in 1966 as a principal at the Ministry of Health. His wife, Karen, heads the Department of Health unit handling trust applications. It is understood that NHS chief executive Duncan Nichol discussed the appointment with regional personnel directors, who agreed that there was no obvious internal candidate for the post.

Six directors to oversee policy implementation in the NHS are to be appointed by the Scottish Office. They will form a management team working with Scottish NHS chief executive Don Cruickshank. Critics fear it will lead to greater central control, but Scottish health minister Michael Forsyth said it would 'strengthen the management of the NHS at the centre'.

Priority services are being left undefended as HAs try to balance their books, community health managers claim. One said: 'In the last year or so money has been very meagre, ' and blamed the decline on the internal market reforms, with their emphasis on acute services. Underfunding of pay and high prices had also contributed to the problem.