Bill would remove power of minister to appoint trustees to NHS charities in England

Commons: debated bill last week
Commons: debated bill last week

The Secretary of State for Health would no longer have the power to appoint trustees to NHS charities in England under a private member’s bill debated in the House of Commons last week.

The NHS (Charitable Trusts Etc) Bill, brought forward by Wendy Morton, the Conservative MP for Aldridge-Brownhills, comes after a 2012 government consultation on NHS charities and would allow them greater independence.

NHS charities are currently regulated under both charity and NHS law and have either an NHS body as a trustee or have special trustees appointed by the Secretary of State for Health.

In its response to the 2012 consultation, published in 2014, the government stated its intention to allow NHS charities to become independent charities in their own right or to revert fully to the control of the trustees of the NHS body they are attached to.

During a debate on the bill in the House of Commons on Friday, Morton said that the 260 such charities operating throughout the country had raised more than £345m in the past financial year.

She said NHS charities had argued for the reform, saying government-appointed trustees could deter potential donors who might feel charities were not independent enough. This, she said, could reduce their ability to act in the best interests of beneficiaries.

She said: "By repealing the powers of the Secretary of State for Health to appoint trustees to NHS bodies in England and to appoint special trustees in England, the bill draws to a conclusion the transition process for NHS charities, which are expected to move either to an independent model or to a corporate model. It creates certainty and clarity within the existing complex bureaucratic structure.

"It provides greater freedom to attract additional funding and gives trustees much greater protection from liability."

She said six charities had made the move to full independence, including: Barts Charity, which raises money for Barts Health NHS Trust; Liverpool’s Alder Hey; Birmingham Children’s Hospital Charity; London’s Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity; and the Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospital Charitable Fund.

Morton said: "They are all able to benefit from greater independence and less bureaucracy."

Morton also sought to reassure MPs that a transition to non-government-appointed trustees would still maintain accountability at NHS charities.

The bill also includes a specific provision for the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity, which receives the royalties from all publications and performances related to the children’s book Peter Pan.

The author, JM Barrie, gave the rights to the story to the charity in 1929, and when the copyright expired in 1987, 50 years after his death, special legislation was put in place to allow the charity to continue receiving royalties in perpetuity through government-appointed special trustees.

Morton’s bill would allow the charity to continue receiving these royalties, even if it takes advantage of the opportunity to become an independent body with its own trustees.

If the bill were not passed, she said, "quite simply, the charity would not be able to complete the move to independence".

She said: "So the hospital would have to run two charities: one would be the independent arm; the other would be the existing one into which the royalties from Peter Pan would be transferred.

"That would mean a duplication of work and more bureaucracy. When the charity goes out to raise funds, it needs to provide certainty to the public."

The bill was passed to the committee stage.

- The story originally said that the debate on the bill was adjourned until 4 December.

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