Published: 27/05/2004, Volume II4, No. 5907 Page 4

New foundation trusts have been criticised as 'crackers' by members of the Commons health select committee for allowing people as young as 12 to be members of their local trust membership board.

Shadow health spokesman Simon Burns told the select committee that the complex decisions that members had to take meant it was not sensible for people of that age to be allowed to elect foundation board governors.

Both Basildon and Thurrock General Hospital and Royal Devon and Exeter Healthcare foundation trusts have a lower age limit of 12 for members.

Committee member David Amess, Tory MP for Southend West, told the committee the age limit was 'crackers'.Mr Burns later said the idea was 'ludicrous'. He said children of 12 were not capable of understanding the complexity of some arguments.

But a spokesperson for Basildon and Thurrock said the trust treats thousands of children each year and that their views are as valid as others. A Royal Devon and Exeter Healthcare Foundation trust spokesperson said the membership concept was about involving and being accountable to the wider community.

Health minister John Hutton told the committee that legislation put no age limit on the membership for foundation trusts, and that it was a decision for the trust.

A spokesperson for the foundation trust independent regulator's office said that if trusts had set a low age limit for members, the trust was asked to explain why it had taken that decision.