Health minister Lord Warner has denied that the appointment of eight male chairs and only one woman to the new strategic health authorities is unrepresentative.
In a heated House of Lords debate, Baroness Gardner of Parkes asked: 'What had happened to the Labour government theory of making things fairer for women?', after the appointment of only one female chair to nine of the 10 SHA posts. One further post remains unfilled.
Lord Warner said the government stood by the decisions of the NHS Appointments Commission.
NHS Appointments Commission chief executive Roger Moore told HSJ that the commission wanted to see 'as much diversity as possible in chairs and executive appointments to boards'.
'As with employment, public appointments cannot be based on a system of positive discrimination,' he said.
Elisabeth Buggins, new chair of West Midlands SHA, said she was 'surprised' to be the only woman appointed as an SHA chair.
'There are plenty of able women in industry and the health service,' she said. Baroness Gardner said that the figures were 'depressing'. The appointments process is based strictly on merit.
'The legal advice given to the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments suggests that any decision on appointment that took account of gender, ethnic background or disability could contravene anti-discrimination [legislation],' he added.
'Surely they [women] should be more fairly represented in relation to the balance of people in the community, where women are in the majority'.