An investigation by the public appointments commissioner has found that measures to correct 'political imbalance' in appointments to primary care trust boards have not worked.

Dame Rennie Fritchie uncovered 'a sorry tale' of 'unsatisfactory' data and appointments made under a system whose weaknesses had already been revealed in a scrutiny of trust and health authority board appointments last year.

Dame Rennie's review of PCT appointments, published as part of her annual report, concludes:

'On the basis of the limited data available, the statistics suggest that, overall, appointments to PCTs do not reflect any statistically significant political bias.'

Although 19 per cent of appointees declared political activity with Labour, compared with 6 per cent for Conservatives and 3 per cent for Liberal Democrats, there was 'no significant difference' between the political activity of applicants and that of appointees.

But it notes that the use of local advertisements to correct the political imbalance does 'not appear to have been effective'.And it finds: 'Different approaches to the selection process were noted across the regions.'

Dame Rennie's review, intended to be limited in scope, was hampered by 'unsatisfactory data'.And the report says 'most significantly, given the importance that was attached to the local advertisements', regions were unable to separate data for appointments made from the regional registers of candidates and those made via local advertisements.

Allegations of Labour 'cronyism' in PCT board appointments emerged in December, when Department of Health figures showed that 22 per cent of nonexecutive directors had declared political activity with Labour, 5 per cent with the Conservatives and 4 per cent with the Liberal Democrats.Dame Rennie said the December figures showed 'no change in those who were politically active' since her earlier scrutiny 'because no one paid attention to it'.

After this, local advertisements for PCT board posts began. But she said deadlines for making appointments to new PCTs were not adjusted to take account of this. 'There was enormous pressure on the people who ran the appointments process to get it done.'

She added: 'It is the cock-up rather than the conspiracy.'

She stressed that the new appointments commission set up under Sir William Wells had met her recommendations.

'It gives me all that I asked for, ' she said. 'While It is a bit of a sorry tale in relation to PCTs, I think we can draw a line under it.'